Sibelius: The Wood Nymph (ballade for orchestra & melodrama); A Lonely Ski-Trail; Swanwhite

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: The Wood Nymph (ballade for orchestra & melodrama); A Lonely Ski-Trail; Swanwhite
PERFORMER: Lasse Pöysti (narrator); Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-815 DDD
Baffle your friends. Switch to track 2 of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s intriguing disc and they will hear, after a short orchestral introduction, a mellow voice intoning: ‘Ett ensamt skidspår som söker…’ It is unusual enough to hear speech with music on a CD, let alone Swedish. But Sibelius explored this quintessential radio technique in a short piano piece designed to accompany the recitation of A Lonely Ski-Trail, a poem by Bertel Gripenberg. And the orchestrated version, accompanying Lasse Pöysti’s seductive reading, appears on this disc.

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But this is by no means the most remarkable revelation in store. You can be forgiven for not knowing Sibelius’s tone poem The Wood Nymph, composed in 1894, unpublished and languishing in obscurity until recently. But once this compelling premiere, which builds over twenty minutes to a massive, forbidding climax, has been heard, it will not easily be forgotten. Later on the same disc, after the slightly tedious incidental music to the play Swanwhite, The Wood Nymph reappears in alternative clothing, this time as music accompanying another atmospheric poetry reading by Lasse Pöysti.

There is so much of interest here that it would be easy to dismiss the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra’s offering as routine. True, there are no hidden treasures, but Neeme Järvi’s craggy interpretation of Finlandia takes some beating, and the soprano Soile Isokoski is clear and surefooted in the awkward tonalities of the visionary Luonnotar.

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Finally, the Helsinki Philharmonic boldly programmes the complete Lemminkäinen Suite. Its lavish timescale, symphonic richness and Wagnerian sensuality make heavy demands on the listener. But to the discerning, it offers most in return. Christopher Lambton