Sibelius: Kullervo, Kortekangas: Migrations - Vänskä
BIS BIS-9048 (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Sibelius: Kullervo, Finlandia (choral version)
Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano)
Tommi Hakala (baritone)
YL Male Voice Choir
Osmo Vänskä (conductor)
Some 150 years ago what is sometimes called ‘The Great Migration’ of Finns to the United States began. Many of the Finns settled in the Mid-West, and especially in the so-called ‘Finn Hook’, consisting of parts of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. To celebrate this, the Minnesota Orchestra under its Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä commissioned the composer Olli Kortekangas to compose a work on the theme of migration, of a scale and nature suitable for performance alongside Jean Sibelius’s great Kullervo. Discovering the work of the Minnesota-based poet Sheila Packa, herself of Finnish descent, Kortekangas composed Migrations for mezzo-soprano, male voice choir and orchestra, the same forces as in Kullervo, with the exception of the baritone soloist in that work.
An all-star Finnish cast – soloists Lilli Paasikivi and Tommi Hakala and the celebrated YL Male Voice Choir – joined the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä for three concerts in February 2016, and captured by a recording team from BIS the memorable performances can now be enjoyed by a wider audience. Sibelius began working on Kullervo during his student days in Vienna in 1891, finding his inspiration in the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic. In a letter home to Finland he wrote about ‘a new symphony, totally in the Finnish spirit’ and the work is often regarded as the first successful example of a Finnish national musical language.
In spite of what Sibelius wrote in his letter, the five-movement work is usually regarded as a symphonic poem, but with a duration of c. 80 minutes Kullervo certainly has the scale of a large symphony, and as such the present performance forms a worthy appendix to the highly acclaimed Sibelius cycle which the orchestra and Vänskä brought to a close with the recent release of Symphonies No. 3, 6 and 7. As a fitting close to this two-disc set, and to the concerts in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, the orchestra performs Sibelius’s Finlandia, with the YL Male Voice Choir joining in in the famous hymn section.
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Recorded at the public concerts on 4th, 5th & 6th February 2016 at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, USA
Produced by Robert Suff
Sound engineer: Marion Schwebel (Take5 Music Production)
Assistant engineer: Matthias Spitzbarth
BIS's recording teams use microphones from Neumann and Schoeps, audio electronics from RME, Lake People and DirectOut, MADI optical cabling technology, monitoring equipment from B&W, STAX and Sennheiser, and Sequoia and Pyramix workstations.
Editing: Matthias Spitzbarth
Mixing: Marion Schwebel, Robert Suff
Executive producer: Robert Suff
Review by Graham Williams - February 1, 2017
Ever since its first commercial recording in 1970 Sibelius's Kullervo Symphony Op.7 has been blessed by a remarkable number of perceptive interpretations on disc, five of which have been issued on SACD in high resolution multi-channel sound, providing fierce competition to any newcomer. Now, following on from Osmo Vänskä's superb cycle of the seven numbered Sibelius Symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra, we have his latest thoughts on this monumental five movement work. This new live recording is taken from three concerts (4th, 5th and 6th of February 2016) given at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis and is in every respect a serious challenger to existing versions.
Osmo Vänskä first recorded Kullervo in 2001 with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra as part of his first Sibelius cycle for BIS and excellent though it was, I have no hesitation in declaring that this new one is even better on a number of counts. Vänskä's performance is once again epic in scale possessing a marvellous breadth and nobility that seems to have inspired all the participants to give of their best. The overall timing of his earlier recording was an astonishing 81 minutes, yet such was the conductor's purposeful direction and firm control of the work's structure it never dragged or lacked a forward pulse. Here Vänskä clocks in at 79'29 and gives a more taut yet still expansive reading of the score.
Timings for the five movements are:
I Introduction 12'46
II Kullervo's Youth 19'05
III Kullervo and his Sister 25'55
IV Kullervo goes to War 9'41
V Kullervo's Death 11'19
It is in movements II and III that Vänskä brings a special and unique insight to the score. 'Kullervo's Youth' moves inexorably with a tragic mien and a sense of dark foreboding that is totally enveloping thanks to the unwavering focus, concentration and sheer beauty of the Minnesota Orchestra's playing. 'Kullervo's Sister' opens in thrilling orchestral style before the entry of the splendid 60-strong YL Male Voice Choir from Helsinki whose runic chanting is splendidly balanced with the orchestra in the spacious BIS recording. The two soloists, the mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi and baritone Tommi Hakala have both appeared on other recordings of this work - Paasikivi for Vänskä and Hakala for Segerstam. While neither disappoint, I found the occasional unsteadiness in Hakala's singing and his effortful delivery as he curses himself a slight drawback when compared with, for example, Juha Uusitalo on Ari Rasilainen's fine CPO recording.
There is little doubt though that Vänskä's absolute grasp of the work's architecture and his authoritative direction of the superlative Minnesota Orchestra yield a performance of spacious grandeur that does provide many moments of frisson rarely matched by the studio recordings .
At this point it is worth mentioning that Kullervo is complete on the first disc of this two-disc set while the other two works performed at these concerts with a total playing time of 33'41 occupy the second.
The Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas (born 1955) received a commission from the Minnesota Orchestra to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of modern Finnish immigration to North America. Vänskä wanted a work that could be paired, as here, in concert with the Kullervo Symphony. While searching for suitable texts Kortekangas discovered the work of the Minnesota-based poet Sheila Packa herself of Finnish descent and so set four of her poems on the theme of migration for mezzo soprano, male voice choir and orchestra similar forces to those used in the Sibelius work. Both Lilli Paasikivi and the YL Male Voice Choir show themselves to be equally adept in English as Finnish and give an authoritative account of this restless and often stormy piece.
The final work on the disc, in which the orchestra is again joined by the YL Male Voice Choir, is a rousing performance of Sibelius's most famous work 'Finlandia'. Here the original orchestral version is brilliantly combined with that of the choral arrangement that Sibelius made in 1940. The incisive orchestral playing and full-throated choral contribution of the choir in the hymn section make this unusual Finlandia most memorable, and unsurprisingly at its conclusion the audience shows its appreciation with well deserved cheers and enthusiastic applause.
The engineering of the BIS recording team on these 5.0 hybrid SACDs is excellent. The sound is vivid and spacious while the surround channels add pleasing ambience. Presentation is also the usual high standard we expect from BIS. The two discs are housed in a single width CD jewel box enclosed within a cardboard slip case that also contains a 63-page booklet giving full texts and translations for all three works and excellent notes by Andrew Barnett.
This is an impressive achievement and makes a fitting appendix to Vänskä's acclaimed Sibelius recordings with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
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Comment by Waveform - December 17, 2016 (1 of 8)
Wow, looks really great! It is good to hear another "Kullervo" recording of YL Male Voice Choir - the work which has been very familiar for them for a long time. This will be a superb conclusion to Vänskä's widely celebrated Sibelius symphony cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra. One can only hope that they will record the composer's theatre music for BIS with 5.0 surround sound in the future...
Comment by hiredfox - January 30, 2017 (2 of 8)
Am I missing something? Amazon are charging nearly £40 for this disc, usually BIS sell for around the £10 mark on-line. Can anybody explain please?
Comment by William Hecht - January 31, 2017 (3 of 8)
Well, it is a 2 disc set, but still the only UK supplier I've found that's presently taking preorders other than Amazon is showing a price around £ 23-24. I usually buy from the UK because with the exchange rate and no VAT I save about 30% as against the typical US price of a disc. The only downside is that UK release dates are frequently later.
Comment by hiredfox - February 2, 2017 (4 of 8)
Thanks Bill. Those are key points. I hadn't realised that it has not been released.
Presumably prices on Amazon will tumble although not much below Presto's.
Comment by ubertrout - February 6, 2017 (5 of 8)
I got this off BIS's download site a week or two ago when it was on sale for $17, stereo and surround both included. It's quite good, IMO.
Comment by [Current93] - February 7, 2017 (6 of 8)
The live concerts in Minnesota featured Sibelius Kullervo got rave review by David Hurwitz several years ago. Looking forward to listen to this SACD. I wonder, how it will work against my current fave SACD by Leif Segerstam and Helsinki PO (Ondine).
Comment by hiredfox - March 17, 2017 (7 of 8)
Agree with you re Segerstam / Helsinki PO version but the recording was compromised because Ondine seem to have compressed the dynamic range, presumably for more comfortable listening at home.
Bissie always maintained that BIS use no compression or other manipulation of the DR; what you get with their recordings is as authentic as the performance itself during recording. For that reason I am looking forward to this more full throttle account from Vanska,
Bissie alleged also that manipulation of DR to "make recordings more acceptable" for the home listening environment is widespread although my experience suggests most SACD producers play the game fairly, hence those soft passages that scarcely can be heard and crescendo that risk damaging one's eardrums!
There are 'though amongst us some who still criticise realism but that is another story.
Comment by Waveform - June 5, 2017 (8 of 8)
According to Amazon.com the first SACD to Osmo Vänskä's Mahler symphony cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra to be released on 4 August, 2017. It will contain the composer's Fifth Symphony as they recorded it in June 2016. Beside the DSD stereo and CD Audio layers disc will include a 5.0 multi-channel DSD layer for SACD players and for multichannel speaker configurations. After this the next album will be the Sixth Symphony which was recorded in November 2016. BIS - or anybody else - has not announced the releases after these but I assume the third album will be the "Resurrection Symphony" (No. 2) because Vänskä will conduct the work on 16-18 June at the 2016/17 season finale.
Personally I look forward to hear the both discs albeit CD and SACD supply are almost overcrowded. Just like their successful Sibelius and Beethoven recordings these will be refreshing listening experiences, I think.