WORKS: Lemminkäinen Legends, Op. 22; Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49
PERFORMER: Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1262-5
Complete recordings of the four Lemminkäinen Legends used to be rare. Now they appear quite often, so that the two movements suppressed by Sibelius for much of his lifetime have become almost as familiar as their popular siblings, ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ and ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’. Also increasingly evident, as with any symphonic masterwork, is that different approaches can be equally convincing in their own way. Hannu Lintu sets out his stall with the opening of the first movement, ‘Lemminkäinen and the Maidens on the Island’: beautifully paced and shaped at a purposeful, not-too-slow pace, and finely played (the four horns immaculate in the tricky opening chords).
As this wonderful movement unfolds, there’s also a tendency to give accents and phrase-openings more emphasis than the score implies – fortunately not enough to disfigure Lintu’s sweeping and tightly focused command of one surging paragraph after another. By today’s international standards, this orchestra’s string tone doesn’t open out in the big moments as warmly as it should. But the bleak, themeless landscape of ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’ (an astonishingly radical statement for 1895) is conveyed with impressive power. I’ve yet to hear a complete Lemminkäinen Legends that matches the emotional charge of Thomas Jensen’s 1952 recording (on Danacord). Lintu runs it close; and he also offers a vividly characterised Pohjola’s Daughter, another spellbinding Sibelian masterpiece of orchestral narrative.