Sibelius: Lemminkainen Legend
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|1. Lemminkainen Legends, Op.22: Lemminkainen And The Maidens Of Saari|
|2. Lemminkainen Legends, Op.22: Lemminkainen In Tuonela|
|3. Lemminkainen Legends, Op.22: The Swan Of Tuonela - Sanna Niemikunnas/Veikko Hoyla|
|4. Lemminkainen Legends, Op.22: Lemmenkainen's Return|
|5. Tapiola, Symphonic Poem, Op.22|
Sometimes known as the Four Legends, these are Sibelius's earliest tone poems. Although very popular during the composer's lifetime, he eventually discouraged performances of two: Lemminkainen and Maidens of Saari and Lemminkainen in Tuonela. This was a real pity, for they contain some fantastic music, and all four make a perfectly natural and listenable cycle. Tapiola, on the other hand, was Sibelius's very last tone poem. A haunting study of Finland's northern forests, it features one of music's most terrifying storms. Leif Segerstam really pegs the storm, and just about everything else, in this superbly played and recorded collection. Very enjoyable. --David Hurwitz
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What's that saying, "It takes a thief to catch a thief?" The fine modern composer Leif Segerstam here has caught the old master, and with the native Helsinki orchestra instead of the Russians, offers up a marvelously informed performance of this sprawling, wonderful musical epic. Segerstam's attention to Sibelius' evocative writing for woodwinds and the easy familiarity the orchestra's string players enjoy with the score's every phrase are thrilling. Sibelius played by Finns - what a great idea!
I rarely give five stars, but this is just wonderful music-making.
The four Lemminkäinen Legends derive from the Kalevala, a 19C compilation of Finnish folkloric poetry and surely one of the most consistently melancholy and tragic of national epics. Segerstam's manner is ideal for these brooding tone-poems, which are now less often heard in their entirety, yet the lesser-known first two movements are no less haunting or atmospheric than the more celebrated "Swan of Tuonela" or "Lemminkäinen's Return". Goodness knows why Sibelius took any notice of the critic who lambasted the music, but he was a highly sensitive, complex personality, susceptible to criticism.
The influence of Wagner is of course most evident in the magical "Swan of Tuonela" which forms the bleakly beautiful emotional heart of this symphonic cycle. The pungent voice of the cor anglais is answered eerily by the sombre cello. After such intensity it is a relief to encounter the drive and derring-do of the last movement, exalting the warrior pride of the Finnish nobility and culminating in a stunning climax.
It is a great bonus to have Segerstam's "Tapiola" concluding the programme on this superb disc: twenty minutes of some of the strangest and most revolutionary tonal music of the 20C - "Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams" suffuse the sound-world.
Even if I did not feel drawn to this monument to Finnish national identity by virtue of my marriage to a Finnish-American, I would prize this disc as one of the finest of its kind I know. Others might remain loyal to the classic Ormandy recording but no-one could be disappointed by this newer recording in such gorgeous sound.
I'd only heard one convincing version before this, under Vassily Sinaisky with the Moscow Phil. That's a wonderful recording, but it pales beside the passion of Segerstam's performance, which is nothing less than hair-raising. I doubt that anyone could hear it without being galvanized. Two episodes -- The Swan of Tuonela and Lemminkanen's REturn -- have long overshadowed the other two "legends," so called becasue of their source in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Once united, however, the heroic effect far exceeds the name of a suite -- this is a huge tonal mural.
Turning to late Sibelius, Segerstam unravels the bleak mysteries of Tapiola with equal conviciton. I hipe his efforts don't get merged with the countless other Sibelius recordings form Finland. This is world class music-making, beautifully recorded by Ondine.
P.S. 2010 - Segerstam's Lemminkainen Suite has serious competition, I now realize, from Neeme Jarvi's 1985 recording on BIS, which prospective buyers should also weigh in the balance.
There's some truth to this (at least the Lemminkainen part) because these tone poems are symphonic in theme, flow and arc. Not perfect, but as symphonic as other things Sibelius wrote at that time. Yes, several of these are just dandy stand-alone pieces--who doesn't have their favorite version of "Swan?"--but they truly sound different when conceived and played altogether.
I have 4 or 5 other versions of these: two versions by Jarvi, one by Ormandy, One each by Vanska and Gibson, and several others I know I'm forgetting. Segerstam's ranks pretty high, and with Ormandy and Jarvi as company, that's saying something for this work.
I find I really like what Segerstam has done with Sibelius on his Ondine recordings, both symphonies and tone poems. I was less fond of his earlier set for Chandos (now on Brilliant Classics) which seemed mannered and self-indulgent.
This version of Lemminkainen is not mannered, and if its self-indulgent, its because Segerstam has his head totally into the picture the music creates...and how to convey it with the orchestra. Full of vigour, color, and very interesting shadings. He does things with the individual poems in this set that he might not do if he were playing one or two individually to fill up a concert bill. And....it works. It sounds different, but just as valid, as the other renditions I have. I can't see living without the others, but I'm very glad I got this set. Highly recommended.
Also comes with a very good rendition of Tapiola. I've seen people almost come to blows arguing over their favorite renditions of this piece. I like Von Karajan's and Beecham's better, but this one is quite good (and I'm not one to get to fisticuffs over Tapiola--I reserve that for the 7th symphony.) In any case, the real draw here is the full Lemminkainen suite.
Do not let the track order bother you. I simply burned a disc with Tuonela second, as most every other conductor does.
The Tapiola is fine to, nice end to the disc.