on 28 July 2014
Why? This recording of one of – in my opinion – Sibelius’ youthful masterstrokes offers spectacular recording combined with a very insightful reading of this work. Every falls into place: the hero’s love music in the first part that feels like a Tristan und Isolde-like crescendo with a never ending love song; the doom and gloom that hangs above the Swan of Tuonela in her black river – terrific grumbling and rumbling from the depth of the darkest instruments on offer, and the unbelievable tense Walküre-like tremolo strings in the finale. It’s all there. BIS has many more Lemminkäinen’s in her catalogue but this is the best. The Järvi from the 1980s is too much in a haste for my taste and the recording – although spectacular dynamic – has some glassy shine; the Vänskä reading, with alternative or first editions of some of the movements doesn’t have the depth of the version on hand here.
The Wood Nymph is not ‘just a filler’; it’s a very tense and expansive piece of mood music that deserves a place in the concert repertoire now and then. Over here Sibelius’ tone poems are no-goers, only occasionally the violin concerto and the 2nd or 5th symphonies are performed. So, if I can’t find it in the concert hall, we’ve the SACD, hopefully still for a long time to go, this record label is a labor of love. But I’m wondering why it took these recordings (made in 2006 and 2007) so many years to be made available for purchase?
on 8 September 2014
The Sibelius discography is awash with recordings of mimsy performances of `Lemminkainen Legends', and here's yet another one. This is Vanska's second shot at Legends and I thought that he might have decided to ratchet up the drama and tension this time around. But no, blandness is evident pretty much throughout. The Lemminkainen saga is set in a world full of danger and adventure, but these qualities are largely absent in this studio-bound effort. Where are the rustic galumphing antics of the hero as he tries to impress the island maidens? Here, he seems to be worried about getting mud on his boots. The aching Tristan-like climax of the first piece is, here, a low-key affair, passion dissipating before it's hardly begun. The Swan of Tuonela floats by, hardly noticed, on waters decidedly untroubled. Lemminkainen descends into Tuonela as if by chairlift; little mystery and tension, no growling menace, and finally he takes a bus for his homeward journey. The Lahti orchestra plays the notes with dutiful care and one can say no more. The filler is pretty much the same as Vanska's previous effort and doesn't in any way redeem the enterprise. This one's going straight to Tuonela.
I despair of recording companies. If you are going to put something out onto an already overcrowded market (and BIS already had two offerings of Lemminkainen in their bag - and their 1985 recording by Neeme Jarvi is a pretty good performance, though let down by rather hazy sound) then make sure it's something special that will clobber the competition. Given the recording date of the disc, 2006, and its release in 2014, did BIS have misgivings of their own?
Of the 17 (no kidding) versions of Legends I've known over many years, I've kept just one: the Groves (EMI), the only conductor who really gets behind the score. The others, in varying degree seem to shy away from it, though if you want a decent enough performance in up to date digital sound, Mikko Franck on Ondine is recommendable .
on 2 May 2016
This disc is a revelation. Not only is the sound clear and precise, I have not heard such a compelling and engaging version in four decades. Not surprising from BIS, and neither is it surprising that Osmo Vanska has excelled.
If you have listened to some Sibelius, the first thing that stands out is the speed. This is slower. The result is that suddenly, you hear things you did not know were there. Lemminkäinen proceeds with crystal clarity - access all areas.
Vanska says: "I might be too fanatical but I believe that if Sibelius wanted us to go faster, he would have written it. The players will sometimes say that it is too slow, or that they have always played it faster, or that everyone takes it faster. This is a risk–do you have enough conviction to play it the way you feel is right even if others disagree with you?"
I feel it is right. I hope you will too.
on 25 August 2016
"Osmo Vänskä recorded Sibelius's Lemminkäinen Suite twenty years ago and it received the Highly Recommended Award of BBC "Building Library". And it was really brilliant. What Vänskä can say now?
Well, this is first SACD release of complete Lemminkäinen Suite. The Wood-Nymph, Lemminkäinen's Return and The Swan of Tuonela are released before on BIS label's SACD album "The Sound of Sibelius".
By the way, Vänskä's reading is much powerful and delightful than his older version. The excellent acoustics of the Sibelius Hall is much better than the older recording's distant sound. The surround sound layer on this multichannel SACD is very pleasant because it is bright and natural.
The first movement's (Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Island) stormy moments and erotic melodies are performed powerfully and dramatically. The deep tremolo of the bass drum shakes the walls of the rooms and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra plays gloriously. The second movement (The Swan of Tuonela) is very beautiful; the lonely solo of English Horn is loud and other players don't cover it.
The third movement (Lemminkäinen in Tuonela) is the most interesting part of this recording. Strings freezing tremolos are very effectively and beautiful second theme (in A minor) is also impressive: it is hard to believe that Sibelius was only over twenty years old when he composed this part! The touching solo of the first flute and snare drum's pppp tremolo sounds very good, as well. The movement ends in hopeful F sharp major.
The last short movement (Lemminkäinen's Return) is very attractive. Orchestra's punchy C minor accord is stunning and the musicians plays their solos excellently. The end is awesome: music goes faster and faster until the loud crash of cymbals stops it. The triples of the cellos and double basses are very effectively: it sounds like Lemminkäinen hits his horse! When the last four E flat major chords are over I have to say that I've never heard so effective and immersive recording of Sibelius' Lemminkäinen Suite! This is OUTSTANDING! Highly recommend, buy this right now!
The Wood Nymph is also very interesting piece. Osmo Vänskä and Lahti Symphony Orchestra recorded its world premiere in 1996, and their performance isn't change much. Still this is very welcomed issue and very interesting release for all Sibelius fans".
- Performance: *****
- Sonics: ****1/2 (Stereo), ***** (Multichannel)