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Rautavaara is justifiably described as Finland’s most widely productive, diverse and performed living composer, and at the age of 84 the breadth of his output cannot be regarded as other than monumental. although he does not profess to be a ‘choral’ composer, and admits to having no practical experience with choirs as either choral conductor or singer, the works particularly of the 1960s and 70s have had an undoubted appeal with choirs throughout the world.

This retrospective 4-disc collection of his choral music includes three substantial major works. Vigilia springs from the impact of an image recalled from his teenage years, of the monastery island of Valamo on Lake Ladoga rising from dense fog and an encounter with a procession of monks. The two parts of Vigilia – ‘Vespers’ from 1971 and ‘Matins’ a year later – occupy the first disc.

True and False Unicorn (1971/2000), described as ‘a tapestry for voices’, is one of the great monuments of Rautavaara’s choral work alongside Vigilia, though unlike the latter it has an orchestral accompaniment. Symphonic in its structural proportions, it includes examples of his eclectic musical personality, a veritable post-modern experience, including elements of popular music, jazz, national anthems and constant rhythmic vitality. On the Last Frontier is among the most recent works, again with orchestra, dating from 1997 with an Edgar allan Poe text. Between these major works are two discs of shorter choral pieces ranging from Psalm settings, a 1979 Magnificat, Communion hymns and a short delightful setting of Ave Maria. The third disc includes a highly atmospheric substantial poem, The Cathedral, a Lorca Suite, elegiac secular settings and one sample of the composer’s appealing sense of humour in Practical German.

This compilation of outstanding performances, recorded between 1995 and 2010, is a fine tribute, not least the most recent exhilarating recording of the complete Vigilia by the unaccompanied Radio Chamber Choir in the ideal acoustics of the new church at Kerava.

PATRIC STANDFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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