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The premiere recording of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Deux Sérénades for violin and orchestra appears on Hilary Hahn’s latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, providing a final barline to the composer’s recorded output.

Hilary Hahn’s new album for Deutsche Grammophon, Paris, includes the the world premiere recording of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s final score, Deux Sérénades, written for and premiered by the violinist, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and its Music Director, Mikko Franck. Composed in 2016, the 14-minute diptych for violin and orchestra was left incomplete at the time of Rautavaara’s death in July that year. Radio France commissioned his compatriot composer Kalevi Aho to finish the orchestration of the second of the two serenades and complete the final editiorial touches to the first serenade in terms of nuances and slurs.

> Listen to the recording on Spotify
> Buy the recording on Amazon
> View the score of Deux Sérénades

The initial idea for recording Paris grew from Hilary Hahn’s term as artist-in-residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France across the 2018-19 season. Following a 2014 performance of Rautavaara’s Violin Concerto with Mikko Franck, she asked the conductor whether his friend and fellow-countryman might consider writing a second concerto. Franck and Rautavaara discussed the idea of a set of serenades, but it looked as if its realization would be prevented by Rautavaara’s ill health. His death at the age of 87 in July 2016 appeared to settle the matter. Franck was shocked, however, when Rautavaara’s widow showed him the near-complete manuscript of a wonderful, elegiac composition for violin and orchestra.

“Mikko realized immediately that this was our piece”, recalls Hahn. The OPRF commissioned prominent Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, who had studied with Rautavaara, to complete the orchestration. “Our recording is from the February 2019 world premiere, which closed out Rautavaara’s catalogue in an emotional and poignant historical performance. After the final note, Mikko raised the score towards the heavens, acknowledging the composer’s presence in spirit.”

Rautavaara’s widow Sinikka recalls how Mikko Franck asked the composer to write the work for Hilary Hahn. “They had performed Einojuhani’s Violin Concerto in Paris and the musical collaboration between them worked well. We heard the recording of the concert and the performance was beautifully lyrical and touching, so Hilary’s profound playing was an important source of inspiration for the new work. Long-term cooperation with Mikko Franck had also always been very fruitful: one of the most important conductors, whose vision can always be trusted.

“Einojuhani’s serious illness in 2004 revolutionized his entire life. Composing gave him the motivation to maintain the flame of life. I noticed that in his last years he increasingly looked back to the beginning of his career from the 1950s. In the second serenade, Sérénade pour la vie, which is the composer’s last work, the old and new are intertwined with the strong melodic line and lyricism of the music, supported by the composer’s personal harmonic techniques.

“The title of the composition guides the listener’s experience while the composer's message is heard in the music. At its best, the listener may find in the music a meaning and message that appeals to and touches them. The starting point of the first serenade, Sérénade pour mon amour, was the poem Es lacht in dem steigenden Jahr dir by Stefan George. The emotional world of the poetry is condensed and the intensity increased in the violin serenade. The composer knew he was living on borrowed time, and from this perspective the title of the second Sérénade pour la vie is explained, with its emphasis on the inevitable passage of time.

“I feel that the first part of the Sérénade pour mon amour is very meditative music, associated for me with great affection and love. The end is neither assertive nor pathetic but breathable, perhaps ultimately enigmatic, with the long lines of the melody singing with full-bodied romanticism. Sérénade pour la vie begins hopefully and brightly, but soon turns to remember the past and the life lived. The feeling remains that life was too short after all.”

> Read an article on Deux Sérénades in the New York Times

In the last decade of his life, following his serious illness, Rautavaara returned a number of times to creating works for violin soloist, composing a series of scores which echo the cantilena sections of the Violin Concerto. Lost Landscapes for violin and piano was premiered by Midori in 2006 in Munich and recorded by Pekka Kuusisto for Ondine in 2001. The four landscapes were important surroundings for the composer when studying during his years of travel away from Finland in the 1950s, recalling Tanglewood, Ascona, Vienna and New York. A 2015 arrangement of Lost Landscapes for violin and string orchestra recently received its first complete performance in a streamed concert with violinist Simone Lamsma and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Trevino.

Composed around the time of Deux Sérénades in Rautavaara’s final years, and similarly premiered posthumously, was Fantasia for violin and orchestra. This 15-minute score was written for Anne Akiko Meyers who gave the first performance in Kansas in 2017 and released a recording on Avie the same year.

>  Further information on Work: Deux Sérénades

Photo: Ondine Records

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