Vänskä’s Kullervo Remake: Nothing New, Bad Marketing

Review by: David Hurwitz

Kullervo

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Osmo Vänskä recorded a superb Kullervo Symphony in Lahti–indeed, that was and remains a reference version. It featured a particularly brave, because very slow but also remarkably powerful, account of the second movement, Kullervo’s Youth. Unlike Vänskä’s other Sibelius symphony remakes in Minnesota, which are replete with annoying little mannerisms and surprisingly dead passages, this performance is excellent. It’s also virtually identical, down to the second, to the conductor’s previous effort. There’s even an authentic Finnish chorus, the YL Male Voice Choir, imported from Helsinki for the occasion. The group has performed and recorded Kullervo something like a thousand times already, so we know exactly what to expect.

Why, then, bother with this new release at all? Well, Kullervo fits on a single disc, as it did previously, but for this series of performances the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas to write a “companion” to Kullervo–in this case a 25-minute piece called Migrations. It is written for the same forces as the Sibelius, setting poems inspired by Finnish immigration to Minnesota (of which there was a lot, in case you didn’t know). The English poems, by Sheila Packa, are both sensitive and moving, the use of language often lovely. Kortegangas sets four of them, separated by three orchestral interludes. You also get as an encore one of the various versions of Finlandia with (male) choir, if you care.

The problem with this release, as I see it, is twofold. First, Kortekangas shows far too much respect to Packa. These are longish poems, the settings themselves relatively brief. This means that there is a lot of talking going on, however accessible and attractive the music (and it is both); but as with so many choral pieces with lots of text to get through, the words are practically unintelligible, and so you can’t really enjoy the poetry at all as it is sung. Second, I doubt that anyone except hardcore patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra–and friends and relatives of Kortekangas–wants this set principally for Migrations. It requires a (very short) second disc. Logically, therefore, the package should have been offered at two discs for the price of one to make it at least competitive with Vänskä’s first recording of Kullervo.

However, a quick check on Amazon.com both in the USA and the UK shows the release being offered as two discs at full price. That’s about $40 here, and 25+ Pounds in Britain. In other words, it’s a ripoff, and it well serves neither Sibelius, Kortegangas, Packa, or most importantly, you. A pity.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Vänskä/Lahti (BIS); Berglund/Bournemouth (EMI/Warner); Segerstam (Ondine)


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