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September 5, 2000

Modern Composers[Music of] Einojuhani Rautavaara. Piano Concerto No. 3: "Gift of Dreams"; Autumn Gardens. Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano and conductor. (Ondine, CD # 950-2) 2000.

Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928), aside from taking the prize for having the most vowels in his name, is one of Europe's leading composers. This new album from Ondine contains two of Rautavaara's most recent works -- his third piano concerto, written in 1998, and the 1999 concerto-like piece "Autumn Gardens." Vladimir Ashkenazy became an enthusiastic promoter of Rautavaara's work after performing and recording some of his compositions, and he commissioned the third piano concerto, which he performs on this recording.

Like Pablo Picasso, whom the composer admires, Rautavaara has gone through a number of different phases in his long career. His early works, written in the 1950s, "are couched in the Neo-Classicism then predominant in Finnish music." Then, like many other composers in the late 1950s, Rautavaara experimented for a time with the twelve-tone or serial musical theories of Arnold Schoenberg. Rautavaara, however, "adopted a rather cavalier attitude to row technique." As he would do for the next forty years, he incorporated some elements of serialism in his work, but combined them with elements from other styles, to create works that are a highly individualistic pastiche of bits and pieces. For a time in the early 1960s, his compositions had a strong and overt Romantic flavor, and by the early 1970s, the dominant trait in Rautavaara's work was his personal blend of neo-Romanticism.

Regardless of the style in which he writes, Rautavaara takes an approach to composition that is both mystical and intellectual. He says that he does not create the basic elements of his works so much as discover them, then allow them to express themselves, using his talents and skills as a composer as their instrument. He says that the central harmonic motif of the third piano concerto, titled Gift of Dreams, first appeared in a song that he wrote in 1978. "This motif," he says, "did not leave me alone; it wanted to grow, change and re-emerge in later compositions." He says that after he began work on the concerto he had a dream "where I was beside a pool by the sea. In the pool was a school of dolphins that I released.... It was obvious that it had been appropriate to release the music too."

This is the composer's summary description of Gift of Dreams: "The opening of the concerto is lyrical and meditative but soon accelerates to a pace replete with pathos, an emotional outburst that initially surprised me.... The second movement, Adagio, starts with the [central] motif..., first arching slowly. Soon it drifts into a piano monologue that picks up speed. As the orchestra enters, the dialogue becomes aggressive, until finally the music calms down--or becomes resigned. The final movement begins with an energetic introduction, continues with blazing fanfares and textures that display varied traces of the dream motif yet are based on various symmetric structures.... Finally, the violins ascent to the heights, supported by massive pillars of sound from the piano and gongs -- and then all falls silent like a fleeting vision, perhaps a dream." Exactly!

You can hear the Piano Concerto No. 3, "Gift of Dreams," by Einojuhani Rautavaara, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy, on WHIL-FM (91.3), Thursday, September 7 at 7:00 pm, as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

--- J. Green


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