Tormis, Debussy, Sibelius

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy,Sibelius,Tormis
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Swan Flight; Ocean
PERFORMER: Estonian-Finnish SO/Anu Tali
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-89876-2
The young Finn Anu Tali is clearly more than just a promising conductor. Her performances of La mer and The Swan of Tuonela are shaped and shaded with skill and sensitivity. Orchestral textures are well balanced and at the same time full of interesting details. The drop in tempo at the end of the central scherzo of La mer isn’t marked in my score, but the effect is magical — as though the waves have suddenly stopped and sea-depths are clearly revealed. There’s strong feeling, too, especially in the cor anglais solo from The Swan of Tuonela: the word ‘melancholy’ isn’t quite strong enough. The playing of the Estonian-Finnish Symphony Orchestra isn’t always perfectly polished (the brass can be a bit coarse), but the enthusiasm and alertness more than compensate. For a combination of understanding, atmosphere and refinement I think Bernard Haitink has the edge in La mer – and his version is available in an attractively priced two-CD Philips set, full of fine Debussy. But I feel Tali has told me things about La mer that I didn’t know before, and for that she deserves at least four stars. As for the two works by Veljo Tormis recorded here, they’re performed with obvious conviction, but I’m afraid I found :hem musically underwhelming. The most striking passages tend to be those which sound like somebody else: the ‘Snowstorm’ movement of Ocean is virtually pure Sibelius (the Sixth Symphony leaps to mind), while large chunks of Swan Flight are so close to Debussy’s ‘Sirènes’ they could almost be quotations. Likeable, certainly, but beside Debussy and Sibelius, all too obviously less-than-great. Stephen Johnson