Notes & Reviews:
The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has a long and triumphant association with the music of Jean Sibelius, having premiered under the composer's baton almost all of his symphonic works. Here they perform his early choral symphony 'Kullervo', under their longstanding chief conductor Leif Segerstam. The work is based on the legend of Kullervo in the epic 'Kalevala', which tells the mythic history of the ancient Finns. The great success of the 1892 premiere in Helsinki - Sibelius conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic - turned out to be the breakthrough of the great Finnish composer's career, making him a true national hero.
BBC Music Magazine
For epic grandeur and excitement Rasilainen remains first choice. But Segerstam's more poetic, even reflective reading is a compelling alternative.
Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Leif Segerstam knows something about pacing and maintaining a strong rhythmic profile over the longest spans of musical narrative... ... Soile Isokoski in the part of Kullervo's raped sister... surpasses herself - and, I think, anyone else I've heard - in creating a self-contained scena for her third-movement lament, vibrant and enticing before turning bitterly eloquent over her shame.
Leif Segerstam's performance joins the pantheon of outstanding Kullervo recordings. As one would expect from this quirkily fascinating conductor-composer, his reading takes a different line from the conventional approach to this strange hybrid work...Rather than adopting a monolithic "symphonic" approach, Segerstam emphasises the inherent drama and the protean nature of the whole work. The theatricality is not confined to the incestuous central duet between the hero Kullervo and his sister, sung here with thrilling operatic intensity by Soile Isokoski and Tommi Hakala, but spreads into the outer orchestral movements, too. If conductors such as Osmo Vänskä show Kullervo to be the starting point for the later, purely symphonic journey Sibelius undertook, the Segerstam reveals possibilities in the work that were never followed up, and which would have taken the composer into a different world altogether.
This latest wholly Finnish production is up there with the best. It reminds us what an audacious work this five-movement quasi-symphony was for its 27-year-old composer, with its pounding rhythms, powerful choral writing and broad range of atmospheres. Leif Segerstam commands these elements with true authority, and the Helsinki Philharmonic responds with playing, by turns elemental and delicate. Soile Isokoski, a soprano who in her vocal edge and intuitive sense of communication can bring to mind Elisabeth Söderström, is a dramatically perceptive foil to Tommi Hakala's appropriately brazen but vocally polished Kullervo.
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Works DetailsSibelius, Jean : Kullervo, Op. 7
- Performers: Tommi Hakala (Baritone); Soile Isokoski (Soprano)
- Conductor: Leif Segerstam
- Ensemble: YL Male Voice Choir
- Running Time: 77 min. 11 sec.
- Period Time: Post Romantic
- Form: Orchestral
- Written: 1892