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Sibelius: Lemminkainen Legend

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchest Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 19.94 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Ondine's booklet tells us that the young Finnish conductor Mikko Franck (a graduate of Helsinki's Sibelius Academy and still just in his early 20s) has already been creating quite a stir in Scandinavia--no wonder, if this incredibly promising debut CD is anything to go by. En Saga immediately proclaims a vital and intelligent personality on the podium. Textures are imaginatively sifted, phrases thoughtfully shaped and there's a strong sense of slumbering, bardic atmosphere--in the dusky coda the clarinet's unforgettably poignant song resonates with an elemental mystery as old as time itself. The Lemminkainen Legends are even more distinctive, nowhere more so than in the opening "Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari", which Franck surveys in extraordinarily individual fashion (the love music now glows with a voluptuous, positively Wagnerian ardour). "The Swan of Tuonela" glides across the water with a sombre, lofty majesty, while the strings' dusky tremolandi in "Lemminkainen in Tuonela" really do chill to the marrow. Even in "Lemminkainen's Return" Franck artfully avoids any hint of excitable bluster. While not displacing Segerstam's masterly and characterful Legends (also on Ondine) at the top of the pile, Franck's intensely stimulating interpretation certainly demands to be experienced. --Andrew Achenbach

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD
Once, when much younger, I performed a little experiment while listening to the First Symphony of Jean Sibelius. I simply turned the lights out and listened to it in total darkness. The experience was a revelation; simply put, I was transported to an imaginary world in which my heightened senses could easily conjure up the far-North vistas that Sibelius' music captures.
In the years since that experiment, I have repeated it many times over, both with the music of Sibelius and with the music of a wide range of other composers. For reasons that I am totally incapable of explaining, the effect has always worked best for Sibelius. (This is almost to the total exclusion of other composers, quite a few of whom I otherwise rank at least as high as Sibelius in terms of more conventional music values.) So I quite simply accepted the fact that there is something special in the ability of Sibelius as a shamanic conjuror, whether that was his intent or not. Certainly, others can listen to his works as "absolute" music and not share this odd conclusion of mine.
Of all the music written by him, the tone poems are certainly at the top of this "lights out" experience. While I will not attempt to list and rank every one of them in terms of this eerie phenomenon, certain ones - "Pojola's Daughter," "Tapiola," "Nightride and Sunrise," the "Lemminkäinen Legends" - would be included. And "En Saga." Definitely, always, and first at the top, "En Saga." This led, over time, to a collecting frenzy, to see if it were possible to pick a performance which outdid all the others in terms of this effect. For quite a length of time, my personal "best of breed" had been the Ashkenazy performance on Decca, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, coupled with the 5th Symphony.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Performance March 22 2001
By A Customer
Format:Audio CD
First of all this recording was a 2001 Grammy Nominee. Second it is one of the best performances of Sibelius I have heard in a long time. Mikko Frank is a conductor who will I feel bring us many fine recordings in the future. He must have been near the top of his class. Some orchestra will be very fortunate to have him at its helm, maybe an American one. The Ondine recording is a very good one, as one might expect with a label that represents one of the better of the independent ones on the
market today. I certanly hope that Mr. Frank and the Swedish Radio Symphony will be heard from again soon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Feb. 11 2002
Format:Audio CD
I must disagree...this recording DOES displace Segerstam's! It's almost impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of this album. Mikko Franck has perfectly captured the essence of Sibelius and the dark, frozen land of which he wrote. The SRSO plays immaculately, and the strings in particular are simply electrifying. The opening of "Lemminkainen in Tuonela" will make your hairs stand on end! "The Swan of Tuonela," the most famous of the legends, is also rapturously played, heartbreaking in its sad loveliness. This cd is a must for any fan of Sibelius. It is absolutely stunning!
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely shamanic; best if listened to with lights out. March 23 2001
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Once, when much younger, I performed a little experiment while listening to the First Symphony of Jean Sibelius. I simply turned the lights out and listened to it in total darkness. The experience was a revelation; simply put, I was transported to an imaginary world in which my heightened senses could easily conjure up the far-North vistas that Sibelius' music captures.

In the years since that experiment, I have repeated it many times over, both with the music of Sibelius and with the music of a wide range of other composers. For reasons that I am totally incapable of explaining, the effect has always worked best for Sibelius. (This is almost to the total exclusion of other composers, quite a few of whom I otherwise rank at least as high as Sibelius in terms of more conventional music values.) So I quite simply accepted the fact that there is something special in the ability of Sibelius as a shamanic conjuror, whether that was his intent or not. Certainly, others can listen to his works as "absolute" music and not share this odd conclusion of mine.

Of all the music written by him, the tone poems are certainly at the top of this "lights out" experience. While I will not attempt to list and rank every one of them in terms of this eerie phenomenon, certain ones - "Pojola's Daughter," "Tapiola," "Nightride and Sunrise," the "Lemminkäinen Legends" - would be included. And "En Saga." Definitely, always, and first at the top, "En Saga." This led, over time, to a collecting frenzy, to see if it were possible to pick a performance which outdid all the others in terms of this effect. For quite a length of time, my personal "best of breed" had been the Ashkenazy performance on Decca, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, coupled with the 5th Symphony.

Now, along comes this 22-year-old kid, Mikko Franck, pretty much out of nowhere (actually, out of the Sibellius Academy) to turn matters upside-down. In a phrase, I need search and spend no longer, because Maestro Franck truly has the measure of this music.

This is the most visceral, exciting, shamanic and best-performed and recorded "En Saga" there is, in my humble opinion. I cannot find enough fine words to describe the playing of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. But I will single out the principal clarinetist, who has a major part toward the end of the work, done to absolute perfection.

The "Lemminkäinen Legends" are performed with equal aplomb. For those who are familiar only with the most famous of these, "The Swan of Tuonela," it needs to be said that the other three legends are of equal interest and significance. The final movement, "Lemminkäinen's Return," while shorter than "En Saga," matches it in its shamanic conjuring ability.

I can only hope that the next Sibelius project for Franck will include the other tone poems noted in the third paragraph of this review. I cannot see how this young man could possibly fail at these, given what he accomplishes in this album under review.

Try this album with the lights out yourself. You too might reach a similar conclusion, with equally enhanced listening and ability to conjure up those far-North vistas.

Bob Zeidler
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Feb. 11 2002
By Jonathan E. Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I must disagree...this recording DOES displace Segerstam's! It's almost impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of this album. Mikko Franck has perfectly captured the essence of Sibelius and the dark, frozen land of which he wrote. The SRSO plays immaculately, and the strings in particular are simply electrifying. The opening of "Lemminkainen in Tuonela" will make your hairs stand on end! "The Swan of Tuonela," the most famous of the legends, is also rapturously played, heartbreaking in its sad loveliness. This cd is a must for any fan of Sibelius. It is absolutely stunning!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Performance March 22 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
First of all this recording was a 2001 Grammy Nominee. Second it is one of the best performances of Sibelius I have heard in a long time. Mikko Frank is a conductor who will I feel bring us many fine recordings in the future. He must have been near the top of his class. Some orchestra will be very fortunate to have him at its helm, maybe an American one. The Ondine recording is a very good one, as one might expect with a label that represents one of the better of the independent ones on the
market today. I certanly hope that Mr. Frank and the Swedish Radio Symphony will be heard from again soon.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Satisfying Account of Two Lesser Known Sibelius Masterpieces April 20 2007
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Finnish conductor Mikko Franck is a force of growing importance in the concert halls around the world. This 2000 recording of 'En Saga' and 'Lemminkäinen Suite: Four Legends from the Kalevala' by his fellow countryman Jean Sibelius with the Radio Symphony Orchestra is stunning in clarity of the massively complex lines and in propulsive drive of the works. For this listener the recording by Franck's senior, Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992, is still the definitive version, but this recording is a triumph nonetheless.

The Lemminkäinen Suite is far too seldom performed as it is some of Sibelius' most vibrantly beautiful work. The long suite (50 minutes) has no dull moments, is full of dramatic urgency and tension, and stops for one of the treasures of 20th Century composition - 'The Swan of Tuonela' which is the third 'movement' in the suite, one of the loveliest pairings of the English horn and the cello. Sibelius' tendency to dwell on the unresolved massive chord, finding every corner of the sonics of that chord pause before moving to yet another unresolved chord is what makes his climaxes almost unbearably beautiful. In a recent performance by Salonen and the LA Phil in Disney Hall, a performance fifteen years after their recording, the true brilliance of the suite found the perfect home: one only hopes that there will be a new recording of the fully matured work with these forces soon.

The sonics of this recording are splendid and the sound of the orchestra is majestic and rich. Mikko Franck is definitely a conductor to watch, especially as a master of Sibelius, and this recording is as fine an introduction to the man's gifts as any. Grady Harp, April 07
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mikko Franck's debut includes an extraordinary "Swan of Tuonela" Aug. 12 2013
By jt52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This 2000 CD from the Ondine label headlines young conductor Mikko Franck in a group of symphonic poems, covering some of Jan Sibelius' finest music. The highlight is maybe the best performance of "The Swan of Tuonela" I have had the pleasure of hearing. Franck and the Swedish Radio Orchestra manage the delicate tonal transitions between strings and solo woodwinds just beautifully, creating a very delicate tonal palette. Franck also accents the very low frequencies (percussion, lower strings), creating a sort of subterranean dimension to the orchestration. Finally, the pacing of the "Swan" is natural and unhurried without languishing. Just an exquisite job.

Most of the remaining tracks are promising without being quite so remarkable. I compared "En Saga", which opens this disc, to my reference version, Colin Davis' vivid interpretation done with the London Symphony on RCA. Franck doesn't equal Davis' amazing combination of exciting pacing, delicate blending of instruments and a visionary conclusion, but he does provide a solid and successful interpretation, although the dream-like ending does drag a bit. The final two tableaux from "Lemminkainen" also are done well, although the versions aren't as fine as the two outstanding recordings of the Four Legends I have, the still excellent Eugene Ormandy recording and a very original and individual recent version by Leif Segerstam (also on Ondine).

The one track that I found unsatisfactory is the extensive opening Legend, "The Maidens of Saari", where Franck and the Swedish Radio Symphony show insufficient finesse in the wind playing. Instead of swelling dynamics -a gradual increase in volume -- the winds often simply enter. This is not the way to play this Legend.

Another virtue of this recording is an audiophile-grade recording job by Ondine, a label with a well-deserved reputation for engineering excellence. This may be one of the best sounding discs in my collection. Because of that engineering and a remarkable interpretation of the oft-performed "Swan", I am giving this 5 stars. I look forward to hearing more from Franck, who most recently has been conducting the Finnish Opera in his native Helsinki.
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