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.
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.
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.
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.
This disc brings together early and late compositions of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), the youthful "Four Legends (of Lemminkainen) from the 'Kalevala'", Op. 22, written between 1893 and 1895 when the composer was 30, and the tone poem "Tapiola", Op. 112 from 1926 when he was 61, the composer's last orchestral work before his long, three-decade silence.
Casual listeners will probably be familiar with the beautiful third movement of Op. 22, the haunting "Swan of Tuonela" with its darkly lyrical English Horn solo accompanied by eerily shimmering strings. There are dozens of stand-alone performances of this iconic movement, but it is always enlightening to hear it in the context of the whole. Many conductors have done the suite justice, from Okko Kamu's magnificent 1976 reading for DG to Neeme Jarvi's dynamically compelling 1984 performance with the Gothenburg Symphony for Bis. Yet, great as they are, these outings seem ponderous, pedestrian, and ultimately rather dull compared to Segerstam, who takes the music at what many long-time listeners may regard as an unusually fast-paced tempo--only to heighten its drama and linear coherence. The four movements are treated as a unified whole--and a good case could be made that this work is, in fact, a symphony in the most traditional sense. From the lush horn chords that seem to hang forebodingly on the air in the opening bars of "Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari" to the frenetic rush of the strings in the closing moments of "Lemminkainen's Homeward Journey", this is a truly unforgettable performance.
Likewise, Segerstam's "Tapiola" is a stunning epiphany! Sibelius' ingeniously mature music has often been weighed down by a kind of grim grandiosity, a glacial inertia that renders it nebulous at best, or, at worst, nearly inscrutable. Yet, while one is certainly aware of the scale and sweep of the music here, Segerstam imbues his reading with an electrifying sense of drive along with a luminous, seraphic self-possession. I've never heard a performance of this work that seemed so aggressively visceral, dynamic, hair-raisingly theatrical, and downright exciting. Nor does Segerstam shrink from the innate eroticism of the score. After the relentless build-up of tension, the deliberately-effected crescendo of the entire long line, the wild, orgasmic howls of the brass near the end almost knocked me out of my chair!
Not only is the Finnish "home team" Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra gorgeously recorded here by Ondine, capturing every detail and subtle nuance of the scores, but there is a passionate energy in their playing--a deep love--that shines through at every turn.