PERFORMER: Randi Stene (mezzo-soprano), Peter Mattei (baritone)National Male Voice Choir of Estonia, Royal Stockholm PO/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45292 2
The increasing number of live performances and recordings (Segerstam, Berglund, Salonen and Saraste all within the last five years) have certainly made us sit up and take more notice of Sibelius’s early, rough-hewn yet thrillingly passionate Nationalist-Romantic symphony Kullervo. Keith Bosley’s new translation of the Kalevala, the great collation of Finno-Baltic folklore, and Aulis Sallinen’s new Kullervo opera have also brought us closer to that eponymous legendary child of our time: Kullervo, who was ‘ill-rocked in his cradle’, ever alienated, and drawn into incest, war and finally suicide.
The orchestral writing of Kullervo has been described as a ‘great rolling spring torrent of Finnish music’, and Paavo Järvi’s performance certainly sweeps all before it, though it is neither as clearly balanced nor as excitingly paced as either his father’s early recording with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, or Esa-Pekka Salonen’s fine 1993 recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Estonian choir here is a match for any of their Baltic brothers; and Randi Stene is an eloquent Sister. But the real strength of this recording is the presence of the outstanding Swedish baritone Peter Mattei, at last a convincing alternative to Jorma Hynninen’s definitive Kullervo in the coiled passion and pain held in intense vocal focus. Hilary Finch