WORKS: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite Op. 46; King Christian II Incidental Music Op. 27; Swanwhite Suite Op. 54 (Excerpts)
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Petri Sakari
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9158 DDD
The real gem in this clutch of Sibelius issues is Esa-Pekka Salonen’s performance of Kullervo, the work which catapulted the young composer to public popularity in his native Finland. Although designated a ‘symphonic poem’, Kullervo is effectively a broadly designed choral symphony. There are times when it sprawls, and some of the choral declamation can seem over-earnest, but through much of its length it abounds with inventiveness and ear-catching sounds.
Salonen has the work’s measure, sustaining its long lines and reflecting the drama with enormous skill. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays as if it has the work in its blood, the soloists are excellent – even if Marianne Rørholm is a touch too forbidding as Kullervo’s sister – and the Helsinki University Chorus is splendidly fresh sounding. With only one other performance available on disc, this is an issue to treasure.
Lorin Maazel’s track record with Sibelius is impressive. These new performances of the First and Seventh symphonies have real qualities but leave a slightly unsatisfactory impression. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra plays with commitment and virtuosity throughout; even so, the Seventh somehow does not take off. The argument is well sustained, but the brisker passages seem rather earthbound. As a whole the CD is enjoyable, though hardly enlightening.
The latter quality is well to the fore on a generously filled disc of theatre music from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. These numerous separate movements provide fascinating snapshots of facets of the composer’s genius. The ISO plays with a will, but there is no concealing moments of uncertain ensemble and some queasy wind playing.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Yoel Levi, in a collection of Sibelius ‘pops’, plays with somewhat greater assurance, but the conductor’s tempi in the Karelia Suite are distinctly plodding, and none of the other performances could honestly be described as outstanding. Jan Smaczny