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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 March 2011
If you know and like Soile Isokoski's pure, powerful, vibrant voice and respond to Sibelius's sparse, restless and often discomfiting orchestral idiom, this disc offers an irresistible combination of the two in unusual repertoire.

An icy wind blows through the sound-world of these songs: swirling snow and shifting mists infuse these myths and folk tales with an atavistic melancholy as if they present a reality older and truer than the modern world. I do not speak Finnish but as one married to a Finnish-American have a nodding familiarity with its sounds and rhythms and I can hear how important it is to have the five Finnish songs interpreted by a native speaker. Returning to Swedish, the language of educated Finns before the resurgence of nationalism, is almost like coming home in that it is recognisably Germanic compared with the intriguing Finno-Ugric group.

Isokoski has the best possible support in Finnish music specialist Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; if you do not know their other Sibelius discs on Ondine let me urge you to sample above all their wonderful "Lemminkäinen Suite". It is diverting to hear echoes of Sibelius's better known works often in the introduction to individual songs and in typical Sibelian style different, fleeting moods succeed each other to match the development of events in the song. Not all here is grim; there are rhapsodic little gems like "The First Kiss" and Sibelius occasionally even skirts sentimentality in such songs as "Was it a dream?", but the prevailing mood is sombre. For anyone versed in the more conventional and familiar worlds of the Lied and mélodie, this represents a rewarding extension of scope into something rather different, even unique.

The recorded sound is especially fine: rich, warm and remarkably clear, with a perfect balance between voice and instruments.
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Even if I don't understand the language, these songs are moving. The comination of the vocal line and the often sparse yet sensitive orchestral score take your imagination to the legendary worlds that are the subject of some of the works, and when required the more earthly subjects receive the appropriate immediacy and accessibility of both melody and accompaniment.

As for the performance ... by the time you get to track 10, if you are of a sentimantal disposition, you might well find yourself reaching for a hankie to wipe a tear or two. Isokosky voice is so beautiful, so well controlled and so powerful too when needed.

Combine that with the fact that Sibelius really does have the ability to proverbially grab your heart and make it miss a few beats .. to me make this a must have in your collection of classical music. No doubt about it.

[The CD sleeve notes also include the translations of the songs]
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Sibelius is fast becoming my favourite composer - and certainly I think he is the greatest symphonist of all, bar none. He rarely if ever seems to be trying to 'sell' me anything, while all the time telling of beauty, awe and wonder, albeit of a distinctly chilly, Nordic variety.
You can't really go wrong with this disc of these songs, taken from the Finnish epic the Kalevala in the case of the title song, and from the words of various poets for the others, all of them immersed in the folk-tales and myths of this Baltic land.
Soile Isokoski is a Finnish soprano with a ringing, incisive, often appropriately ethereal voice, and she is accompanied here by the Helsinki Philharmonic under another Finn, Leif Segerstam, a composer and conductor steeped in this music.
As other reviewers have intimated, if you love the symphonies and tone poems of Sibelius - or his other songs for that matter - this is sure to captivate and delight.
Try the nine-minute Luonnotar itself, or tracks 10 & 11, two dramatic, sparsely orchestrated songs which will transport the listener to the forests and lakes of frostfire Finland. I can imagine playing this on a winter night in candlelight by a log fire, with a suitably cockle-warming drink to hand...
Fall for the rarefied world of the great, secretive Finn and you'll be a devoted Sibelian for life. This music is as essential, in every way, as anything he wrote.

Bracingly beautiful.
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on 17 February 2011
If you know the Sibelius symphonies and the violin concerto, do try these beautiful orchestral songs,sung by the superb Solie Isokoski. A beautiful recording sung by one of todays finest singers. They are a treat, buy it.
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On this CD from Ondine, the beautiful soprano voice of Soile Isokoski sings 19 songs that Sibelius wrote for accompaniment by full orchestra. Here we have the advantage of the warm and expressive female voice together with Sibelius' characteristic orchestral textures. Most of the songs are quite short, lasting only some two or three minutes each. But there are some more substantial pieces here too. The CD opens with the song of Kaiutar (the wood nymph) as she wanders through the wilderness in search of her beloved. Then follows the best known of the orchestral songs, Luonnotar (the nature spirit), set to text from the first runo of the Kalevala. This piece is long enough to be described as a short tone-poem. Also in the collection is the beautiful Arioso, an early work from 1893 setting text by Finland's national poet Ludwig Runeberg. Sibelius arranged this text again in 1911 to provide the setting we hear here for soprano and strings. Then there is the Höstkväll (autumn night) with its pervading sense of the despair associated with the season - more so perhaps in regions that are denied the brilliant reds, yellows and browns that brighten autumn days in some other places. If you enjoy vocal music and especially the music of Jan Sibelius then this CD is highly recommendable.
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on 11 October 2014
A generous collection of Sibelius orchestral songs, some orchestrated by the composer himself, others not. With expert conducting by Leif Segerstam (less sluggish than usual) there is certainly no sense of unhomogeneity in the material, spanning most of the composer's career. The famous Luonnotar comes off very well, but to be honest, I have yet to hear a bad version of this fantastic and challenging piece that seems to bring out the best in singers and conductors alike. Other highlights include Höstkväll, På verandan vid havet and the chilling Sen har jag ej frågat mera. Soile Isokoski sings with such emotion and commitment that one almost feels Sibelius must have have written these songs with just her in mind. The Ondine sound is rich and full. It is hard to imagine how any of this could be bettered. Sheer perfection.
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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2013
This a beautiful collection of rarely heard orchestral songs by Sibelius, performed by the Finnish lyric soprano Soile Isokoski and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

The title track "Luonnotar", at nearly nine minutes the longest track, is described as a tone poem for soprano and orchestra. It is known to performers as a fiendishly difficult piece. The text is from the first part of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, and deals with the creation of the world. Luonnotar is the Spirit of Nature in Finnish mythology. The music is every bit as dramatic as the theme would suggest, and Isokoski's vocal agility and power are very impressive. It takes a great singer to avoid being overwhelmed by the orchestra in a piece like this.

In addition, there are 18 further songs, all based on Finnish and Swedish texts (Swedish was actually Sibelius' first language). They are all fine, all very dramatic, and include songs like Driftwood and Swim, Duck Swim, which prevent the overall experience from becoming too sombre.

Very highly recommended.
[PeterReeve]
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