Double Play; Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson Compare Notes On.;Rautavaara: Angel of Light (Symphony No 7) / Annunciations Helsinki Philharmoni C / Leif Segerstam (Ondine ODE 869-2)

Article excerpt

The title of the symphony is unfortunate, given current musical trends. Truth is, we've been seeing rather too much of the light recently. Angels, too. And plainchants, and eternal drones, and luminescent trances. Music without end. Amen. But Einojuhani Rautavaara is a Finn, and where he is coming from, angels fear to tread. Meaning that he has his feet planted firmly on terra firma, that there is human flesh on these notes, that they go down deeper, strive more earnestly, arrive somewhere. You'll recognise the landscape. Sibelius walked here. Epic chords toll for him in the opening sequence, woodwind pairings come in familiar intervals, and all the while a would-be hymn - like a musical mantra - hints at fulfilment. Tapiola-like squalls whip up the forces of antagonism, there is a gleeful malevolence about the invasive scherzo - not so much a threat, more an irritation, and actually, it has to be said, the least interesting music in the piece. Seekers of "the celestial sedative" can take their fix from the slow movement (Come un sogno - "like a dream").

The inevitable solo violin hovers halo-like over the proceedings, bringing us closer to the contemplative highs of Gorecki, Tavener, Part, and their derivatives. Rautavaara's star-gazing begins and ends here. But it moves, this music, its field of gravity draws us in, and when the apotheosis finally arrives, you feel like you've earned it. The final bars ascend beautifully into the stratosphere, and should you stay tuned for the other piece on the disc - Annunciations for Organ, Brass Group, and Symphonic Winds - be warned, the Miltonian fall from grace will be disorientating. Rautavaara has a good nose for atmosphere: you'll feel before you hear the primeval drone that descends over the opening bars. Angel of Light, be damned - the Angel of Darkness rules here from the console of some phantom organ. And in the person of Kari Jussila, he's a lot of fun, fingers running scared in ever-more distracted configurations. Black magic. Messiaenic tinklings in tuned percussion offset all kind of spookhouse effects, the comic presence of the flexatone (a kind of musical saw) leaving this listener in no doubt that, as well as the best tunes, the Devil has all the best jokes, too. …