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Review: MN Orchestra, eloquent cellist give Rautavaara concerto a subtle, expressive premiere

During one of his visits to the Twin Cities some years ago, I asked Einojuhani Rautavaara what it is that characterizes Finnish music. He is, after all, the elder statesman of music in Finland, his country’s most honored composer, and it seemed likely that he had considered that question.

He mentioned a feeling for nature. Smiling, he said, “I always say to my colleagues that when I hear your slow movements, I see before my eyes a typical Finnish farmer sitting outside after taking a sauna, looking at the lake and meditating about the deep things in life.”

Rautavaara, who celebrates his 82nd birthday next week, might have been describing his Cello Concerto No. 2, which the Minnesota Orchestra premiered at Orchestra Hall Thursday morning (and will continue with performances this weekend). Fellow Finn Osmo Vänskä, no stranger to Rautavaara’s music, presided at the podium over a performance of great subtlety and careful control of expression. Polish-born cellist Arek Tesarczyk, who joined the orchestra in 2004, was the eloquent soloist.

Rautavaara gives his concerto a subtitle, “Towards the Horizon,” and indeed, in the quiet moments of the final pages of this one-movement, 20-minute work, with its long passages of soft high notes from the solo cello — so beautifully played by Tesarczyk — it is easy to imagine that our Finnish farmer has shifted his gaze to the horizon and is thinking of even deeper things.

The music is meditative and lyrical. A long-breathed melody announced at the start moves back and forth between cello and orchestra, becoming gradually more tranquil and serene. Later, there are dialogues — cello and solo horn, cello and, a Rautavaara trademark, whirlwind flutes. It’s as if our Finnish farmer, seated by the lake, has had a few visitors, the result being series of lively conversations, one of which, near the end, takes on the character of a dance. This elegant music ends softly, as if our farmer has dozed off and entered a peaceful dream.

Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor, cellist Arek Tesarczyk, soloist. Orchestra Hall, 11th and Nicollet. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $22-$88. 612-371-5656.

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