It’s a refreshing change to hear music with an innocent ear. I know the Finnish composer Rautavaara’s popular seventh symphony Angel of Light but little else of his. I decided to listen to his fantasy for chorus and orchestra On the Last Frontier without the usual pre-concert homework.
The CBSO, under Adrian Lucas, began with a portentous theme on strings with enough chromaticism to hint that something forbidding, maybe frightening, was on its way. Rautavaara’s austere sound palette conjured up an icy landscape while a slightly clichéd harp glissando suggested film music, reminding me of Humphrey Searle’s score for the Hammer horror classic The Abominable Snowman. When the choir entered, doing a creditable attempt at sounding disembodied, we were in Vaughan Williams’ territory – his score for Scott of the Antarctic. Not a bad guess. Rautavaara’s 1997 work was inspired by a story of Poe’s that features a voyage to the Antarctic. The “last frontier” is as much spiritual as physical and the work ends in a rapt climax. Credit to the organisers for an adventurous piece of programming which was very well performed.
Brahms’ Deutsches Requiem, lacking Verdi’s drama or Faure’s melodic sweetness, can sometimes sag. The opening section here lacked tension but this performance grew in stature and gravitas, underpinned by organ (Roger Judd) and with the choir impressively weighty in the declamatory All flesh is grass. The soloists Eloise Routledge (soprano) and Robert Rice (bass) sang well and the final Blessed are the dead was a moving valediction.