Jean Sibelius: Kullervo, Op. 7 - Olli Kortekangas: Migrations CD, Import, SACD
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I've come to love Kullervo, even though it's not a perfect work. But it is on my short but growing list of "there's nothing like it" pieces - including Messaien's Turangalila, Nicholas Maw's Odyssey, Schoenberg's Gurrelieder - that orchestras don't do often but really should. Kullervo is done a lot in Finland - seems to be their gala piece, like Beethoven's 9th or Mahler 2 - but less so abroad, most likely because of its Finnish character and, more important, the likely need a Finnish choir (though non-Finnish choirs have recorded it). It has great tunes that you want to hear over and over, and the entry of the men's choir in the third part ("Kullervo and his Sister") will send chills up your spine.
The Minnesota Orchestra is an absolutely world-class ensemble, with a great partnership with Osmo Vanska. The playing is great, as are the soloists (Lilli Paasakivi is pretty much the go-to soprano for this piece; I haven't heard Tommi Hakala before but he's excellent). And the YL Male Voice Choir of Helsinki (what a great name) - which pretty much owns this piece - is alone worth the price of admission.
The other pieces on the double-CD are Olli Kortekangas' "Migrations," for soprano, male choir and orchestra. It was intended as a prelude to Kullervo; very different, but it makes sense, and also takes advantage in concert of the soprano and male choir you've already hired for Kullervo (and the choir sings very well in English, not surprisingly). I don't find it as compelling as Kullervo it was a good idea to include it on the recording.
Finlandia never fails to get even the non-Finn's patriotic heart stirring, and the addition of the YL choir brings the album to a rousing conclusion; at least on the first two hearings, the inclusion of applause at the end is welcome.
My one regret is that this recording wasn't done as a DVD; recorded as it was live in concert, it's as much a document of the revival of the great Minnesota Orchestra as of an oft-recorded but little-performed work (at least in the US). They took it on the road to New York seven years ago - maybe now to Europe; it would be a big hit at the Proms.
It's heart-warming as well to listen to this stirring music in the middle of a long cold winter; even in normally sunny and mild Victoria BC we've been hit hard by cold and snow, snow, and more snow. This calls for the heroes of the sagas to bring out their horns and do their mighty deeds, as seen in the painting on the front cover of the disc by Axel Gallén (his Kullervo Goes to War from 1901), and for the listeners to thrill to the exciting tale told by Sibelius. The composer provides memorable melodies, martial rhythms and plenty of drama, which Vanska calibrates carefully to avoid sentimentality or bombast. There's an electricity in the air throughout in this recording, made during three public concerts during February 2016. It comes to a head with a spectacular recording of everyone's favourite national hymn, Finlandia.
In between, though, is another work, by the Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas, which takes advantage of the forces assembled for the Sibelius. Migrations is based on poetry by the Minnesotan (of Finnish descent) Sheila Packa, which takes as its theme something that's relevant to the history of Finland and Minnesota, and to the sad stories of todays migrants.
in a cascade of notes
which is not endless
but aching and sweet
like iridescent feathers
of wings that rise and fall
in the circle of migration
in each flight
music that we breathe
Poems by Sheila Packa, from the books ‘Cloud Birds’ and ‘Echo & Lightning’ published by Wildwood River Press.
This BIS release is something special; I expect it'll end up in my 2017 Top 10 list for sure.
I have at last count seven recordings of Kullervo and strange as to say whilst not an SACD the clear winner is a little known recording by Paavo Jarvi and the Royal Stockholm.............and it is on a single disc.
So do you wallet and ears a favour and give this recording a miss and get the Paavo Jarvi recording..
If you must have Kullervo on SACD then check out the recording on the CPO label it would be my second choice after the Jarvi !