Monthly Archives: June 2016

CD review: Rautavaara’s Rubaiyat etc

First published in the Guardian on 2 June, 2016

Rautavaara: Rubaiyat, Balada, Canto V, Four Songs from Rasputin
Helsinki Philharmonic/ Helsinki Music Centre Choir/Storgards/ Finley

It took me several attempts to make it all the way through this disc of recent-ish choral and orchestral works by Einojuhani Rautavaara: the 88-year-old Finnish composer, mystical with a capital M, has dipped into various styles from neoclassicism to serialism to glassy Nordic minimalism during his long career, but his late style has settled into a thick, gooey swirl of post-romanticism and I kept feeling overwhelmingly bloated. It’s hard to fault the performances though. Canto V finds the Helsinki Phil sounding alert and committed under John Storgards, the Helsinki choir gives it loudly behind spirited tenor Mika Pohjonen in the Balada, and Gerald Finley makes rousing stuff of Rubaiyat — a song cycle that sets the poetry of 11th century Persian philosopher Omar Khayyam in a sickly Victorian English translation with a strong accompanying dose of English pastoralism in the surging strings.

CD review: Richard Egarr plays Bach’s French Suites

First published in the Guardian on 2 June, 2016

Bach: The French Suites
Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi)

Harpsichordist Richard Egarr makes the point that if the French Suites are less popular than Bach’s other keyboard music, that’s possibly because they’re underestimated as more domestic, less grand and generally less showy-offy. “Recorded performances often omit many repeats in order to squeeze them onto a single disc,” he tuts. Whereas he definitely gives us the full two discs — we even get three extra versions of the Courante from the Second Suite (Bach couldn’t decide on an ending) — and all with that Egarrian expressive heft that is anything but domestic. He digs into his harpsichord, which is a huge-sounding modern Dutch instrument, and produces dark, nutty tones with chunky middle voices and gnarly chordal textures. He adds embellishments all over the place and his rhythms are spiky and erratic. The playing is not dainty and it’s not polite, with bullish Gigues and a Loure in the Fifth Suite that sounds downright petulant, but all that makes the warmth and lyricism of the Allemandes and Sarabandes doubly affecting when they come.