Various Artists

Apotheosis: The Best of Einojuhani Rautavaara

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Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928) is the most popular and frequently performed Finnish composer since Sibelius. It's easy to see why; he employs contemporary techniques, but always in the service of a focused musical purpose that speaks to listeners with emotional directness and clarity. This album compiles some of his greatest hits and makes a good introduction for anyone coming to his music for the first time. Only two of the seven works are complete -- the rest are single movements from larger works -- so listeners who are already fans will probably want to seek out complete performances. Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds & Orchestra) is included in its entirety. It's a lovely, relaxed piece reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' gentle pastoralism, which uses tapes of birdsong and shows Rautavaara at his most accessible. The majority of the works included -- movements from the Clarinet Concerto, the Sixth and Seventh symphonies, and from two tone poems -- are in this elegiac, lyrical vein. Only the movement from the Piano Concerto is what could be described as energetic music. This may not be a fully representative sampling of the composer's expressive range, but it makes a good starting point, especially for listeners who tend to be hesitant about exploring "modern" music. The performances, by the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, featuring the distinguished soloists pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, are very fine. The sound of the recordings, taken from Ondine's large catalog of the composer's works, is clear, clean, spacious, and atmospheric.

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