Sibelius: Kullervo Symphony; Karelia Suite; The Oceanides; Tapiola

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WORKS: Kullervo Symphony; Karelia Suite; The Oceanides; Tapiola
PERFORMER: Raili Kostia (soprano), Usko Viitanen (baritone), Ida Haendel (violin); Helsinki University Male Voice Choir, Bournemouth SO/Paavo Berglund
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 74200 2 ADD Reissue (1971-6)
This was the very first recording of Kullervo, the symphonic poem-cum-symphony with which Sibelius made his breakthrough in Finland in 1892, but which was not heard again until the year after his death. Dedicated playing and good singers, too, though Berglund’s later recording has the benefit of Jorma Hynninen. The remaining performances are very fine indeed – in particular The Oceanides and the poignant, incomprehensibly neglected and haunting Serenades, composed in 1913-14, at a time when Sibelius was making sketches for a second violin concerto. In these Ida Haendel plays with characteristic finesse and eloquence. The transfer is expert, though the chorus seems brighter and more forward than on the LP, and cellos and basses, while better defined, are slightly less weighty. But this is a minor quibble: the 1970s sound is eminently satisfying throughout and those wanting a bargain Kullervo need not hesitate especially as the rest of the programme is so good. Robert Layton