Sibelius: Kullervo

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WORKS: Kullervo
PERFORMER: Johanna Rusanen (soprano), Esa Ruuttunen (baritone); Laulun Ystavat Male Choir, Turku PO/Jorma Panula
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553756
In the opening movement of Sibelius’s first substantial work – choral symphony, symphonic poem, or whatever one might want to call it — Panula gets a little lost in the Brucknerian spaciousness of the music’s progress. Compare it with what Neeme Ja’rvi gets out of the same music in his Gothenburg performance for BIS, and you realise that both energy and mystery are in short supply at this point in the Naxos recording. But tilings get progressively better as the work proceeds. Panula’s Turku orchestra has some fine wind players among its number and it is in their instrumental detail that the later movements, especially ‘Kullervo’s Youth’ and ‘Kullervo Goes to War’, make their greatest mark. The two soloists are the equal of Jarvi’s better-known Karita Mattila and Jorma Hynninen, and the singing of the male chorus (the same group on both recordings, as it happens) is appropriately urgent and indeed terrifying at the very end. The closeness of the recording draws attention to some of the orchestra’s shortcomings in ensemble, but is wide-ranging in dynamics. Considering the budget price, this is an ideal introduction to Sibelius’s first symphonic work. Matthew Rye