Various Artists

Rautavaara: Angels and Visitations

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More than any other recording company, Ondine has fostered Einojuhani Rautavaara's reputation internationally and produced extraordinary albums that many regard as definitive presentations of his music. To sample Rautavaara's (and the label's) extensive catalog, look no further than this ample double-disc compilation, which features extracted movements from longer works, such as the popular concertos and symphonies, single-movement tone poems, and a smattering of short excerpts, all of which give a well-rounded portrait of Rautavaara and demonstrate the uniformly high quality of the performances and the recordings. The roster of soloists is impressive, with such names as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Richard Stoltzman, and Patrick Gallois standing out, and the five orchestras represented are sure to be recognized for their long association with this leading Finnish composer. That said, Rautavaara's oeuvre is not for everybody, insofar as his music is unabashedly neo-Romantic in impulse and coloration, fairly conservative in tonality and style, and often ethereal and misty in its moods. Like many of his generation, notably Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, Rautavaara regards creating art as something close to a religious expression, and draws connections between artistic and spiritual varieties of ecstasy. Yet unlike Pärt and Tavener, Rautavaara usually makes music that works as secular concert fare; while his mystical themes are important, they don't interfere with appreciating the music on its own abstract terms. So if you like pieces with plenty of atmosphere and placid harmonies, and are not put off by the ephemeral imagery (which at times seems calculated to appeal to new age sensibilities), Rautavaara's pleasant, dreamy music may fill the bill. Recorded between 1991 and 2005, the recordings have remarkably clear sound and are well balanced despite the different venues.

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