Sibelius: Kullervo / Vänskä, Paasikivi, Laukka, Et Al

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There are no bad recordings of Sibelius' epic Kullervo Symphony, only good and a bit less so. In this latter category fall the comparatively unimaginative Panula (Naxos) and the stodgy Colin Davis (RCA). All of the others, especially both Berglunds (EMI), either Järvi (father and son on BIS and Virgin respectively), Salonen (Sony), and Segerstam (Chandos) are very good indeed. This new recording upholds Vänskä's fine reputation as a Sibelian, and offers further testimony to the exceptional playing standards of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä's interpretation differs from those listed above in two respects. First, because his orchestra has a comparatively small string section (still substantially larger than that of the work's premiere, as the finely detailed booklet notes point out), he has little trouble balancing prominent wind passages against the often-dense string accompaniments. The very opening of the work, gentler and softer than usual, makes this clear immediately, and the whole performance has an unusual degree of transparency. Second, he adds about four minutes to the average timing of the second movement (Kullervo's Youth), which works very well when the playing is so impressively sustained and the results so tellingly atmospheric. Still, 19-plus minutes is a long time to have to wait until the narrative sections of the work begin with Kullervo and his Sister (marvelously sung by the Helsinki University Chorus and the two soloists), and despite Vänskä's confident musical shaping, some may find this just too much of a good thing. It's a highly subjective matter, even if there's no doubting the legitimacy of the overall concept.

The remainder of the work proceeds without a hitch, and if you get the impression from any of the foregoing that Vänskä leads what is in any way a timid or small-scale performance, the brilliantly exciting fourth movement (Kullervo Goes to War) will shatter that assumption. In fact, as with all of Vänskä's Sibelius, he plays the music with tremendous sweep and passion, taking delight in employing a vast dynamic range, and the Lahti brass section delivers plenty of brilliance and fullness of tone when called for. The recording, the first made in the orchestra's gorgeous new hall, captures the work magnificently, with excellent balances between voices and instruments. And so, while not clearly superior to the best versions mentioned above, Vänskä and his forces do offer insights that certainly justify purchase of this disc if you find yourself drawn to Sibelius' enthralling early masterpiece.
--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BIS-CD-1215

  • UPC: 7318590012154

  • Label: BIS

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius

  • Conductor: Osmo Vänskä

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki University Chorus, Lahti Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Lilli Paasikivi, Raimo Laukka