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5.0 out of 5 stars A Finnish masterpiece., 9 Feb. 2013
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A contemporary of Sibelius, Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) managed to establish for himself a reputation side by side with the toweriong genius of his fellow countryman, which was no mean feat. His music reflects the landscape and folk songs of his native province of Ostrobuthnia, Finland. His three symphonies took a different path to those of Sibelius. He also wrote opera: a musical genre that Sibelius never embraced.

The earliest work on the CD is the elegy (1909), which was given it's first performance by the great Sibelian conductor Robert Kajanus in 1910. It is a romantic work which was later incorporated into the Sinfoninen sarja, but has gained its reputation as a separate orchestral piece. The tone poem Kullervo of 1913 shows Madetojo take on a nationalistic theme, as Sibelius had also done. The work shows more of an influence of Tchaikovsky though. Madetoja portrays the tragedy of his hero with music that is, at times, dark. His mastery of the orchestral form is superb, using the instruments of the orchestra to colour this fabulous score.

The major work on this CD is the magnificent Second Symphony, completed in 1918 and premiered in Helsinki in December of that year. It was this work, above his other compositions, that established his reputation as a world-class composer of Finnish music. Written against the backdrop of the Finnish Civil War, this symphony echoes his feelings toward this tragic event; his brother was killed in action. The Second Symphony is on a larger scale than the other two. The first two movements are joined together. The work opens atmospherically, Madetoja evoking a Nordic landscape with all it's ruggedness. I found it very Sibelian in character, but the influences of Tchaikovsky are also present. Movements three and four are similarly joined. The third movement begins dark and brooding, and is the darkest movement in the symphony. To add contrast, an oboe eventually appears, adding a pastoral aspect. There are pointed, astringent harmonies, characteristic of Sibelius. This leads into the fourth movement which is a dramatic finale, in which brass and strings appear to vie for supremacy. The symphony ends with a broad theme of resignation.

The CD is beautifully recorded, in excellent sound in the warm acoustic of the Helsinki Music Centre. Conductor John Storgards clearly shows a great affinity for these works. With good, informative booklet notes, this is fine production indeed and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore this composer's works.
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