Sibelius: Kullervo Symphony

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WORKS: Kullervo Symphony
PERFORMER: Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano), Raimo Laukka (baritone); Helsinki University Chorus, Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
Only last month I was welcoming the return of Paavo Berglund’s pioneering 1971 set of the Kullervo Symphony with the Bournemouth SO, now accommodated on one CD. BIS was the first to issue Kullervo on a single disc in 1986 with the Gothenburg SO, though Neeme Järvi’s tempo for the first movement felt uncomfortably brisk. However, it had the advantage of Karita Mattila and Jorma Hynninen. Now comes this unerringly paced and superbly recorded account with Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti orchestra, together with two vocally (and dramatically) impressive soloists. When Sibelius’s son-in-law Jussi Jalas conducted Kullervo in 1958, the year after the composer’s death, there was an authenticity of feeling and naturalness of utterance yet an urgency that outweighed any roughness of execution. There is the same feeling of authority here, and the same epic sweep and magisterial control that distinguished Colin Davis’s performance with the LSO at the Barbican in 1992 and his subsequent RCA recording. Vänskä conveys its power, its dramatic intensity and a marvellous sense of atmosphere. Apart from the fine soloists he also has the advantage of a native Finnish-speaking male choir whose dark tone is thrilling. The very best performances always leave you thinking what a wonderful score this is: Davis’s RCA version spills over on to a second disc so that for many, this will now be a first choice.