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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rautavaara's Summer Thoughts, Music for Violin and Piano 1952-2008

The more I listen to the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara, the more I forget about stylistic categories and the more I revel in the sheer brilliance of his sound. And nowhere is this more true than on the delightful new disk Summer Thoughts (Ondine 1177-2). It's a collection of evocative pieces for violin and piano spanning an impressive number of years (1952-2008). There are seven works represented on the disk; all have a goodly dose of summer sunlight dappled into the violin and piano parts. It's Rautavaara the earthbound neo-impressionist here I suppose you could say.

The world premiere recording of his 20-minute "Lost Landscapes" begins the program with a wistful nostalgia we often get at the start of summer. It is a work of great beauty, of sensuous tenderness, brilliantly played by violinist Pekka Kuusisto and pianist Paavali Jumppanen (and that also follows for the entire disk). Another extraordinary high point comes at the very end of the disk, with the 1952 "Pelimannit (The Fiddlers), Suite for Piano." Six movements charm, each based on a traditional Finnish polska fiddle tune. The duo decided to preface each movement with a literal statement of the actual fiddle tune, played on the violin, then let Rautavaara's piano part become a more direct commentary on each polska. It works very well, bringing out the variational strategies clearly for those not familiar with the original tunes.

In between the bookended pieces are lovely atmospheric miniatures, one for solo violin, the rest for duet.

This is music for a quiet summer afternoon. It is music that wears well with repeated listenings. It is brilliant music, performed with brilliance. It is a testiment to the vast scope of Rautavaara's musical vision. Do listen to this one!

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