RAUTAVAARA: Cantus Articus(1972). String Quartet No. 4 (1975). Symphony No. 5(1986)
Sirius String Quartet/Leipzig Radio Symphony Orch/Max Pommer, cond.
CATALYST 62671 (F) (DDD) TT: 70:59

One of the more fascinating issues in RCA/BMG's Catalyst series is a disc devoted to Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928). After studies with leading native composers, Rautavaara was selected by 90-year old Sibelius as the winner of a scholarhip from the Koussevitzky Foundation to study in the U.S. Listening to Rautavaara's music one would never suspect that he studied with Vincent Persichetti and Roger Sessions at Juilliard, and with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He has written several operas, chamber music, seven symphonies, and many works for solo voices and chorus. 

The featured music on this CD is Cantus Arcticus, written in 1972. This strange 17-minute work is called "Concerto for Birds and Orchestra," combining the recorded sounds of wild birds with the sound of a symphony orchestra. It is an oddly haunting work of quiet, evocative power, with a dark mystic quality that suggests the bleak Nordic climate. There are three sections: The Bog, Melancholy, and Swans Migrating. It is a fascinating score; the pre-recorded sounds of birds are compelling listening, which cannot be said of the other two works on this CD, the String Quartet No. 4, composed in 1975, a three-movement, meditative 22-minute work in which Rautavaara on purpose has limited the scope of the music. Not much happens here to stimulate the listener in spite of the fine performance by the Sirius Quartet, but a lot happens in the other work, Symphony No. 5, written in 1986, a 31-minute, one-movement symphony with enormous percussive, dissonant climaxes disturbing the over-all bleak aural picture. For this listener, it lacks an overall focus that would merit repeated listening. The two orchestral works are beautifully played by the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra directed by Max Pommer. The recordings were licensed from the Finnish label, Ondine, and sound just as good on RCA/BMG. The prime interest here is Cantus Articus; the CD is worth having just for that strange, mystic work.

R.E.B. (September 1999)