If you’re only familiar with Rautavaara’s orchestral works and love them as much as I do, you should listen to this release. With only one or two instruments to work with, the essence of Rautavaara’s music is laid bare.

As the artists write in the liner notes, “Rautavaara’s music surprised us with how violently it struck us. We were both enormously attracted to its mysterious melancholy and its sustained and relentless pain and anger, combined with a feather-light beauty and caressing sensuality.”

The works on this release cover most of his career. Rautavaara’s style evolved over time, yet the emotional content remained a constant.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 sets the tone. It was originally written in 1972 when Rautavaara leaned toward the neo-romantic. The long, lyrical melodies are often supported by modal harmonies. And yet there’s an edge to this music. Perhaps it comes from Rautavaara’ revisions in 2001. Or perhaps they were there all along.

The second sonata for cello and piano, completed in 1991 is even edgier. It sounds almost experimental. The material sounds fragmented as if broken apart and jumbled back together. And yet there are moments of icy calm, a hallmark of Rautavaara.

Rautavaara’s music is demanding. Cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Gunilla Süssmann are more than equal to the task. I was especially impressed with Tetzlaff’s performance of the Sonata for Solo Cello. Her command of the extreme upper register — in harmonics — was astounding.

Also included are the Two Preludes and Fugues, student pieces from 1955. These are simpler, less introspective works. And even in these lighter, more conventional pieces, there’s a hint of something darker just below the surface.

If you know Rautavaara’s music, this release belongs in your collection. If you don’t, give this a listen.

Einojuhani Rautavaara: Works for Cello
Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Gunilla Süssmann, piano
Ondine ODE 1310-2