Sallinen: The Horseman

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LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: The Horseman
PERFORMER: Matti Salminen, Martti Wallén, Eero Erkkilä, Usko Viitanen, Taru Valjakka; Savonlinna Opera Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Ulf Söderblom
Pre-eminent among Finnish composers, Aulis Sallinen has also made a major contribution to modern opera with his five examples of the genre. The Horseman, his first, was premiered at the Savonlinna Festival, on the stage in the medieval castle at Olavinlinna, which actually features in the opera.


The libretto (by Paavo Haavikko) is embedded in Finnish history and legend – the folk epic Kalevala is quoted in the closing lament of the Horseman’s wife – and shrouded in enigmatic Nordic symbolism. The music is similarly allusive and sombre, though shot through with Sallinen’s characteristic brand of lyricism. Cogent and compelling, the score reveals Sallinen as a master musical dramatist. Despite the tragic overtones of the work, the music is orchestrated colourfully and is not inaccessible.


The performance was recorded at the opera’s premiere at Savonlinna in 1975 and suffers a little from the unresonant open-air acoustic of the castle courtyard. Söderblom sympathetically conducts a strong native cast led by the admirable Matti Salminen in the title role. Deborah Calland