Sibelius: En Saga; Lemminkäinen Suite

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: En Saga; Lemminkäinen Suite
PERFORMER: Swedish RSO/Mikko Franck
Six years separate the present recording of Lemminkäinen from Saraste’s last account with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RCA), and you may reasonably ask whether we need his thoughts on this piece all over again – and so soon. But his Toronto disc, it must be said, surpasses the earlier version both in the quality of the orchestral playing and the Finlandia recording. At the time of its publication in 1954, Sibelius asked for the order of the Legends to be changed so that ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ came second, but Saraste disregards that. His young countryman Mikko Franck does not and he strikes me as the more thoughtful interpreter, fresher in his responses and steeped in the atmosphere of this wonderful score. He is more expansive in the bigger movements, perhaps a little too much so in ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’, where tension is not quite sustained. In ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ he neither generates the urgent momentum and level of excitement of Beecham, Segerstam or Vänskä. Of the two fill-ups, Mikko Franck’s account of En saga is the more concentrated in feeling and powerful in atmosphere. In the night ride itself, Saraste sounds a bit pedestrian, though to be fair the sunrise section has genuine nobility. In short, the Saraste has quite a lot going for it, though Franck (still in his early twenties) and the Swedish Radio Orchestra have more. His readings have the stronger personality and can be recommended to Sibelians – albeit not in preference to Osmo Vänskä on BIS. Robert Layton