Sibelius: Kullervo

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Kullervo
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano), Peter Mattei (baritone); Men of the London Symphony Chorus; LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 00074 (also available LSO 0574 CD/SACD hybrid)
Every time I hear it, I am puzzled that Sibelius should have had such strong doubts about Kullervo as to discourage performances during his lifetime. Fortunately he never got round to destroying it, as he did the Eighth Symphony, but was forced to sell the manuscript in the early 1920s. Colin Davis did a very fine set in 1992 with the LSO and this new disc recorded at the Barbican Hall last autumn is every bit as impressive. Sir Colin’s first movement is spacious – certainly broader than the 1958 performance by Sibelius’s son-in-law, Jussi Jalas, which brought this piece alive again after its long slumber. There is the same epic sweep and magisterial control, and the passion which was so impressive in the earlier version. What a remarkable and imaginative movement it is too. The slow movement, ‘Kullervo’s Youth’, is powerfully characterised, as indeed is the central ‘Kullervo and his Sister’ movement. The general flow and dramatic thrust of this remarkable scena, Sibelius’s first setting of the Kalevala, the repository of Finnish mythology, is wonderfully conveyed. Kalevala not only struck a responsive chord in Sibelius’s sensibility, it was of crucial importance to the growth of his artistic personality. Without it, Sibelius would no more be Sibelius than he would be without the natural landscape of the North.

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Sir Colin is a Sibelian of commanding stature and the LSO and Chorus give of their finest. Both soloists have recorded Kullervo before: Monica Groop with Saraste (Finlandia) and Peter Mattei with Paavo Järvi (Virgin), both in the mid-1990s, and they are in fine voice here. Good recording, though the acoustic is just a little dry thanks to the full house. Osmo Vänskä’s version on BIS has been the preferred version up to now, but given both the excellence of the newcomer and its competitive price this is now a first choice. Robert Layton