Sibelius: Kullervo

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Kullervo
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano), Raimo Laukka (baritone)Danish National RSO & Choir/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9393 DDD
Kullervo is an extraordinary work, a stirring, ultimately tragic tale from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, told on the grandest symphonic scale. For all that it is an early work, many features of Sibelius’s mature style are present in both structure and themes. Despite the huge success Kullervo had at its premiere in 1892, the fiercely self-critical Sibelius withdrew the work and might well have destroyed it had not the Kalevala Society bought the score in 1921.

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Leif Segerstam’s affection and understanding is evident throughout his performance on Chandos. There is passion in the third movement and a profound sense of tragedy in the finale, as well as a clear sense of an epic being unfolded in the opening movement. Though highly coloured, at times his interpretation slips into self-indulgence and impetus is lost, notably in the first two movements; nor are problems of orchestral balance always convincingly solved. With noticeably brisker tempi, Esa-Pekka Salonen on Sony injects a greater note of urgency into his performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, though less substantial in sound, his Helsinki University Chorus has a more authentic ring than Segerstam’s Danish National Radio Choir. While Segerstam’s recording has much to commend it, Salonen’s is a safer general recommendation. Jan Smaczny