Einojuhani Rautavaara / Leif Segerstam

Rautavaara: Before the Icons; A Tapestry of Life

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Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara continues to be an astonishingly productive composer, as A Tapestry of Life, written when he was 79, demonstrates. As with so many of his later works, the four-movement orchestral piece is lushly scored, strongly evocative, and has a radiant energy. Written soon after his recovery from a catastrophic illness, the music and the title reflect the composer's assertive optimism. The movements have varied moods, but all are characterized by a sense of wonder and a tone of transcendence. The first, "Stars Swarming," magically depicts the imagery of stars falling to earth and shattering as they land on the lawn. The fourth movement, "The Last Polonaise," despite the finality of the title, ends explosively with an unresolved cadence that leaves the astonished listener with the dawning awareness that the conclusion is entirely open-ended. Rautavaara composed a set of piano pieces, Before the Icons, as a student in 1955, but didn't orchestrate it and fill it out for another 50 years. It has many parallels with Pictures at an Exhibition -- its genesis as a piano suite, its subject matter of visual art (in this case, Orthodox icons), and even interludes, which the composer calls Prayers, that correspond with Mussorgsky's "Promenades." Like the Mussorgsky, this piece doesn't require familiarity with the art to make an impact; each movement is vividly distinctive. It's not Rautavaara's most profound work, but it's immensely attractive. Leif Segerstam leads the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in refined and committed performances. Ondine's sound is clean and atmospheric.

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