Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam – Jean Sibelius: Kullervo (2008)
SACD ISO: 3,78 GB (Stereo + MCH DSD) | FLAC @ 24bit/88.2kHz: 1,30 GB | Full Artwork
Label/Cat#: Ondine # ODE 1122-5 | Country/Year: Finland 2008
Genre: Classical | Style: Romantic
Review by James Leonard
Every recording released of Kullervo proves Sibelius’ aesthetic judgment was wrong when he forbid performances of the work during his long lifetime. A five-movement symphony-cum-symphonic poem-cum-oratorio-cum-opera, Kullervo may have seemed unwieldy in its time, but starting with Paavo Berglund’s premiere recording in 1985, the work has taken its rightful place in the canon as the progenitor of Sibelius’ mature style and as a valid and affecting work in its own right. This 2008 Ondine release with Leif Segerstam leading the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the YL Male Voice Choir not only ranks with the best of recent memory — Osmo Vänskä and the Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s recordings — but Segerstam finds something new to say about the piece. By blending the epic-symphonic and the lyric-dramatic elements of the score into a cogent musical whole, Segerstam makes the best case for the work. With the powerful, colorful, and deeply committed playing of the Helsinki Philharmonic, the outer movements have the heft and control of symphonic arguments. And with the brawny but expressive baritone Tommi Hakala in the title role and the pure but passionate soprano Soile Isokoski as his sister, the central movement sounds more than ever like a scene from an opera. Captured in super audio sound that envelops the listener in the performances, this recording deserves to be heard by anyone who relishes Sibelius. allmusicguide
For an industry that’s supposed to be in trouble, it’s remarkable to consider that there have been no less than three superb SACD multichannel recordings of Sibelius’ epic Kullervo Symphony in the past year or so. I don’t exactly see lines forming for this particular work at what few classical CD stores remain, but no matter. Kullervo really is a remarkable creation for a young composer coming “from nowhere”, as it were, and the second movement, “Kullervo’s Youth”, is a masterpiece that at a stroke reveals Sibelius as a major voice.
So then the question becomes, “What does this new version have that the others don’t?” The answer is simple: the best solo singing the work has ever received. In particular, Soile Isokoski is simply miles away from the matronly mezzos who often take the part of Kullervo’s sister. To be fair, it’s not exactly a major role, and the number of singers comfortable with Finnish always will be limited. Still, Isokoski’s interpretation puts so much sadness for innocence lost back into the part (and she’s so sensitively accompanied by Segerstam) that the entire long movement is transformed. As Kullervo, Tommi Hakala sings every bit as well as Jorma Hynninen, with the same intensity and intelligence, but with a richer and warmer timbre. The YL Male Choir makes a meal of its long narratives in the third and fifth movements, so in the two vocal movements alone this release offers something special.
Happily, the rest of the work satisfies in equal measure. Segerstam, as collectors will know, recorded the work previously with Danish forces for Chandos. That also was a very fine interpretation, not terribly different in concept from this one. Still, you will find an extra deftness to the string playing, particularly in “Kullervo’s Youth”, and some outstanding contributions from the all-important woodwinds (the crazy repeated-note oboe solo in the first movement has never gone better). “Kullervo Goes to War” also benefits from the excellent clarity of the engineering (in all formats), which gives the timpani additional presence at no sacrifice of natural balances between sections. In short, we’re spoiled for choice in this work, and I for one am not complaining. [4/3/2008] classicstoday
1 Introduction 14:18
2 Kullervo’s Youth 16:33
3 Kullervo And His Sister 24:39
4 Kullervo Goes To War 9:46
5 Kullervo’s Death 12:41
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