Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Lemminkäinen Suite
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1015
Sibelius was a harsh self-critic: the Fifth Symphony alone went through two major overhauls and occupied him on and off for seven years: the Four Legends that comprise the Lemminkäinen Suite (1895-6) were revised twice, first in 1897 and then again in 1900. In the case of ‘Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island’ and ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’ there were further revisions before Sibelius passed them for publication. BIS continues to put us in its debt by bringing, not only the familiar final version of the score but the 1896 versions of the first Legend and of ‘Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey’. (Incidentally, he is on the way home and has not yet arrived so ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ is not the correct title!) This is very nearly twice as long as the definitive version and bears witness to Sibelius’s powers of concentration. The first Legend underwent a particularly fascinating and enriching transformation. The disc also offers the alternative 1897 ending of ‘Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey’ and an excerpt from ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’ which Sibelius excised. The finished work is authoritatively and sensitively played by Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Orchestra and given very natural, wide-ranging and lifelike recording. ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ is highly evocative and way up there among the best. So in addition to a magnificent performance, we have an unique and privileged glimpse of the creative process. A must for Sibelians.

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Petri Sakari’s account of the Legends is also good (and very well recorded too) though he reverses the order of the middle two (as, for that matter, does Salonen on Sony). After the 1939 revision Sibelius expressly placed ‘The Swan’ second instead of third as it had been originally (see Tawaststjerna Sibelius vol. 1, p. 179). However readers can easily re-programme their players. The other pieces come off well too, so that this disc represents good value for money even if it would not be a first choice. Robert Layton