Sibelius: Kullervo; Symphony No. 7; Rakastava; En saga

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Kullervo; Symphony No. 7; Rakastava; En saga
PERFORMER: Hillevi Martinpelto (soprano), Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (baritone)LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68312 2
It was Colin Davis’s performance of Kullervo with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican five years ago which introduced many listeners to the early symphony Sibelius withdrew from circulation, and which lay in limbo for sixty years. Davis and the LSO have now caught up with the work in their recorded Sibelius cycle, and it appears in the context of several new recordings over the last few years.

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Kullervo, the ill-fated anti-hero of the Kalevala, inhabits an IMAX big-screen landscape in this broad, spacious performance of striding tempi and hugely resonant strings. They sometimes threaten to swamp the brighter, colder details of Sibelius’s score, and can constrain the momentum generated by a leaner sound. Particularly in ‘Kullervo’s Youth’, there were times when I longed for the string articulation to bite more and plod less, and for the shaft of violin lightning to be more of an electrical charge.

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It is doubtless curmudgeonly to prefer the rock-hard consonant and back-of-the-throat vowels of a native Baltic choir to the nonetheless rigorously trained LS Chorus, and to compare unfavourably Karl-Magnus Fredriksson’s elegant baritone with Hillevi Martinpelto’s passionate soprano. And, indeed, to grumble that this coupling with a somewhat lush, soporific Seventh Symphony (plus En saga and the orchestral version of Rakastava) inevitably forces one to change discs between movements of Kullervo. Hilary Finch