Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Legends (really his Second Symphony when played as a group) have been very well served on recordings, but the music is so interesting and enjoyable that there always seems to be room for one more fine version. Hannu Linto and the Finnish Radio Symphony certainly offer that. It goes without saying that both conductor and players know the music cold, but that doesn’t mean that they will play it as well as they do here. This is actually Ondine’s third recording of these pieces, not counting singleton versions of the more popular items, and the one conducted by Leif Segerstam remains a reference edition–but this newcomer certainly gives it a good run for the money.
Lintu’s conducting generally features quick tempos, sharp rhythms, and notably firm accents and articulation, etching the music’s folk-like motives and bewitching harmonies in sharp relief. The passionate love music in Lemminkäinen and the Maidens on the Island writhes with remarkable, frenzied intensity. In the first part of Lemminkäinen in Tuonela, the successive climaxes pile up in truly harrowing fashion, while Lemminkäinen’s Return starts at a good clip and only ratchets up the excitement as it proceeds. Most interesting, though, is The Swan of Tuonela (here in the usual second place), a piece where you might think you’ve heard it all. Lintu and Ondine’s engineers keep the English horn naturally embedded in the orchestral texture, the player observing Sibelius dynamics carefully, with the result that the piece sounds less like a lost concerto movement and more like the atmospheric tone poem that Sibelius intended.
Pohjola’s Daughter features the same general virtues, its pictorial elements naturally captured without any slackening of the music’s inexorable momentum. The whole piece proceeds in a single, cohesive arch, the brass finely balanced against the strings and the textures always clean and clear. This is, in short, perfectly idiomatic Sibelius playing and conducting from a team that really knows its stuff. The SACD sonics support the interpretations at every point, never drawing attention to the engineering at the expense of the interpretations, and providing an ideal ambience within which to enjoy them. Simply excellent.
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