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Reviews: Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite & The Wood-Nymph - Vänskä

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Reviews: 2

Site review by akiralx June 17, 2014
Performance:   Sonics:  
A beautifully played account of the four Lemminkainen Legends with spacious recording to match. The opening Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island is brooding and deeply felt, with the bass harmonies of cello and bassoon coming through nicely in the sound mix.

I usually prefer the middle movement order reversed than as here, though The Swan of Tuonela, very well done, logically sets the scene for the Lemminkainen in Tuonela movement with its famous central dreamlike episode.

Here though I must express a reservation which applies to the whole performance (except perhaps The Swan) but crept in especially during the final two movements: for its many merits it's just not quite as dramatic as Okko Kamu's old Deutsche Grammophon recording with the Helsinki Radio SO, last seen on a French DG double set 'Splendeurs du Nord'. There the dreamlike episode is amazingly atmospheric with mesmerising harmonies from the strings, which this new release doesn't quite match.

That old analogue recording, though not as spacious as this BIS release, has more impact - perhaps from a rather closer balance. This SACD also seems to have a rather low recording level - I had to turn the volume up more than once during each of the three times I listened to this new recording in stereo. It is refined and still dramatic, and I know I will listen with enjoyment to Vanka's insights - but to be swept away by this marvellous work I know I will turn to Kamu every time.

The difference is encapsulated by a comparison of the final section, Lemminkainen's Return, which chugs along quite dramatically in Vanka's hands, while under Kamu the excitement is almost overwhelming. The closing bars there are truly breathtaking.

The Wood Nymph, not published during Sibelius' lifetime, is not a work with which I am familiar, this performance seems to me to be very fine, with the heroic opening pages idiomatically done before the elf music takes over. The tragic closing pages are very powerfully played indeed. If the work has a fault it is that it is too long at nearly 22 minutes' duration, but I can't see it being better done than here.

Review by Luukas May 20, 2014 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Osmo Vänskä recorded Sibelius' Lemminkäinen Suite twenty years ago, and it got BBC Building Library's Highly Recommended award. 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, BIS label's outstanding SACD of Sibelius' famous orchestral works, "The Sound of Sibelius".
By the way, Vänskä's reading is much powerful and delightful than his older version. Sibelius Hall's excellent acoustic is much better than older recording's distant sound. The multichannel SACD sounds outstanding: it is bright and natural. First movement's (Lemminkäinen and the maidens of Island) stormy moments and erotic melodies are performed powerfully and dramatically. Bass drum's deep tremolo sounds frightening, and Lahti Symphony Orchestra plays as they breaths this music. Second movement (The Swan of Tuonela) is very beautiful; english horn's lonely solo is loud, and other players don't cover it. Strings singing melody is also very good.
Third movement (Lemminkäinen in Tuonela) is this recording's most interesting part. Strings freezing tremolos are very effectively and beautiful second theme (in A minor) is also breathtaking: it is hard to believe that Sibelius was only over twenty years old when he composed this part. First flute's touching solo and snare drum's pppp tremolo sounds very good. The movement ends in hopeful F sharp major.
Last short movement (Lemminkäinen's Return) is very attractive. Orchestra's punchy C minor accord is stunning, and orchestra's players plays their solos excellent. The end is breathtaking: music goes faster and faster until cymbals loud crash stops it. Contrabass's and cello's triples 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 attractive 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 1990s, and their performance isn't change much. Still this is very welcomed issue and very interesting release of all Sibelius fans.

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