ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite
WORKS: Lemminkäinen Suite; The Wood Nymph (Skogsrået)
PERFORMER: Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-1745 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Most of this issue – ‘The Swan of Tuonela’, ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ and Skogsrået – was first released a few years ago, and these recordings have been remastered for this new compilation. The remastered sound is superbly in line with the label’s reputation. So are the performances: for me, this is the finest Lemminkäinen Suite since Thomas Jensen’s unforgettable 1952 recording with the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra (Danacord DACOCD 697-698).
Compared to Jensen’s mesmerising command of pace, atmosphere, and charged emotion, Vänskä’s approach is more tight-reined. He pays scrupulous attention to Sibelius’s tempo markings: at first I wondered whether the central dance section of ‘Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island’ felt surprisingly quick, but that’s what the score asks for, and the result scintillates.
Vänskä and the Lahti orchestra generate spellbinding intensity both in the The Swan of Tuonela (with wonderful, uncredited solo cor anglais playing) and in the turbulent outer sections of ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’. Here they also find a remarkable, keening quality for the lament of the hero’s mother; and a brilliantly judged, not-too-quick tempo for ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ unleashes thrilling momentum.
Compared to this four-movement early Sibelius masterpiece, Skogsrået is not the same class: the opening and closing sections find the composer railroading through some indifferent material, although the lyrical centrepiece, with its cello solo, is more impressive.