Tapiola; En Saga; Eight Songs
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1289-5 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The word ‘sacred’ can also mean ‘set apart’, which may explain the strange fate of Sibelius’s Tapiola. Routinely it’s listed among the composer’s supreme achievements, yet it’s hardly ever heard in concert. When it appears on record it’s usually as a coupling, and even then conductors seem disinclined to take any risks with it. It’s marvellous then to find a conductor taking a genuinely fresh approach. Hannu Lintu’s Tapiola isn’t the grey, remote expanse so many make of it. Like Caliban’s isle in The Tempest this forest is ‘full of noises’: strange cries, impish chuckles, the kind of sudden creaks and cracks that might make a solitary walker wheel round anxiously on his heel. The textures are wonderfully alive and multi-layered. Yet Lintu has added nothing to the familiar score – just heard things it seems others haven’t heard before. Best of all is the way he draws out singing lines almost throughout the piece. The music’s roots in ancient Finnish chant have never been clearer – even at the height of the storm the forest still sings.
Something similar happens in En Saga. It’s intensely dramatic, but at the same time it reminds us that the old Finnish tales were handed down in song form. Coupling these performances with eight songs, in orchestrations by the composer Aulis Sallinen, has the kind of organic logic Sibelius himself might have approved. I’m sure he would have loved Anne Sofie von Otter’s singing, with its unique mixture of warm and cold tone and its searching musicality. Everything is recorded beautifully, with clarity and atmosphere expertly balanced.
Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.