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Scenes from the Kalevala - Slobodeniouk

Scenes from the Kalevala - Slobodeniouk

BIS  BIS 2371

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Madetoja: Kullervo, Op. 15
Klami: Kalevala Suite, Op. 23
Sibelius: Lemminkäinen in Tuonela, Op. 22 No. 2 (1897 version - world premiere recording)
Pylkkänen: Kullervo Goes to War

Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Dima Slobodeniouk (conductor)


The Kalevala is a compilation of mostly original folk poetry, arranged into fifty extensive runos ('poems') by the Finnish physician and folklorist Elias Lonnrot. Beginning with the creation of the world, it develops into a series of separate episodes which nevertheless form a rich whole, introducing epic characters such as Vainamoinen, Lemminkainen and Kullervo. The collection first appeared in 1835, with a final, extended version being published in 1849, and was soon hailed as Finland's 'national epos' - a sensitive matter given that the country had been subjected to Russian rule since 1809. It came to play a major part in Finland's national awakening and had a massive influence on Finnish art in the late 19th century, but its role in the national consciousness remains important even today.

The present album, from the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Dima Slobodeniouk, brings together Kalevala-related works spanning the period between 1897 and 1943. No such collection could overlook Sibelius, who composed several works inspired by the epos. Included here is a rarity - the first recording of the 1897 version of Lemminkainen in Tuonela, from the Lemminkainen Suite. Finnish composers from later generations all had to find a way out from under Sibelius's shadow - especially so when composing works based on the Kalevala. The portraits of Kullervo which bookend the disc, by Leevi Madetoja and Tauno Pylkkanen, are both compact works in contrast to Sibelius's large-scale 'choral symphony' on the same theme, and when Uuno Klami used bold and primitive colors in his five-movement Kalevala Suite,

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Review by Graham Williams - December 1, 2021

The Kalevala is a 19th-century work of poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot in 1835 from Finnish oral folklore and mythology and is considered one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. It has also been important in both the development of the Finnish national identity and as source of inspiration for many Finnish composers, four of whom are featured on this thrilling new recording from BIS.

Unsurprisingly, it is the name of Jean Sibelius that first comes to mind with regard to the Kalevala, as early in his career he became aware of the many opportunities for musical expression that the epic offered. His first major work inspired by the Kalevala was the Kullervo symphony, once, but no longer, a rarity on disc and in the concert hall. Later the much revised Lemminkäinen Suite appeared, and on this SACD we have a world première recording of the original 1896 version of one of its movements, ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’. This was originally placed as the second movement of the Suite but the composer placed it third in his 1939 revision of the work. Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra give a compelling performance of the composer’s first thoughts that provide a fascinating comparison with the familiar and final version of the piece.

The music of Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) is rarely and inexplicably heard outside Nordic countries. He studied with Sibelius at the turn of the century and his late-romantic style has immediate appeal. He is represented here by his 14 minute symphonic poem ‘Kullervo’. This is a heroic and excitingly dramatic work full of contrasts and rich melodic invention. To me it seems to be the Nordic equivalent of Strauss’s Don Juan and as such its neglect is a cause for regret. Thanks, however, to Slobodeniouk’s blazing account here it should entice listeners to investigate more of Madetoja’s most attractive music. Recordings of his three symphonies from these forces would make a wonderful addition to the SACD catalogue.(BIS please take note!).

When Uuno Klami (1900-61) decided to write his six movement ‘Kalevala Suite’ – the longest work on this disc – he described its background thus: “Conscious of the dangers of entering the territory ruled by Sibelius as an autocrat… I began to devise a completely different starting point”. As Kimmo Korhonen, the writer of the excellent liner notes suggests, Klami’s period studying in Paris in the winter of 1924-25 where he met Ravel and Florent Schmitt gave him exposure to cutting edge modernist works of the time. The music of Stravinsky is clearly a huge influence on this Suite. The ‘Rite of Spring’ looms large in the first two movements entitled respectively ‘The Creation of the Earth’ and ‘The Sprout of Spring’ while the lyricism and delicacy of ‘The Firebird’ characterises the two that follow. We return to the world of Sibelius or more accurately late-romanticism with Klami’s finale, representing ‘The Forging of the Sampo’ (a mythical wealth-making machine). This evocative movement exemplifies the composer’s command of the orchestra as it builds from a mysterious quiet opening to a triumphant peroration capped with pealing bells and sonorous brass.

The final work on the disc is ‘Kullervo goes to War’ composed by Tauno Pylkkänen (1918-1980) a pupil of Madetoja who early on, in what was to become a tragic life, achieved success as an opera composer (he was called the ‘Puccini of the North’). The music of ‘Kullervo goes to War’, written when the composer was just 24, has a cinematic quality that, with its energy, galloping rhythms and romantic horn calls, perfectly epitomizes its subject.

Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra deliver all these pieces with the total commitment and flare one would expect from an orchestra steeped in this tradition.
All four works were recorded in the clean and spacious, if perhaps slightly chilly, acoustic of the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland between September 2017 and January 2020 by the BIS recording team of Marion Schwebel and Sound engineer Christian Starke.

I cannot recommend this imaginatively constructed programme and superbly executed release highly enough; collectors should find this recording a more than worthy addition to their shelves.

Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by john hunter - December 4, 2021 (1 of 5)

Must say I was unsure of this but after reading your review Graham, it's a buy.
Those composers I've never heard sound like they make an interesting mix with Sibelius.
Add Bis'usual high recording standards and that seals the deal!!

Comment by Graham Williams - December 6, 2021 (2 of 5)

Hi John
Though the Sibelius is a world premiere recording it is the music of the three other composers that is the main attraction here. I was bowled over by this recording and I hope you will be too.

Comment by hiredfox - December 11, 2021 (3 of 5)

It is Presto's recording of the Month. The clips on their website sound pretty good.

Comment by john hunter - December 13, 2021 (4 of 5)

Ordered thru Presto so now just await on the post!!!
Hopefully before Christmas.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - December 14, 2021 (5 of 5)

You might think that Finnish folk poetry would hardly be the stuff of great orchestrations, but you would be wrong. I downloaded the surround version of the album from eClassical in the original recording format 24/96. I too was not expecting much but with such a strong recommendation I wanted to hear it for myself. The music is robust and full bodied. Every aspect of the orchestra is used to evoke a myriad of feelings in the listener. Normally, I do not connect the storyline to the music. It's just me. I love the music and melodies but can't seem to connect the composer's story. Not so in this case, every track is evocative and creates a strong emotional connection (no matter what your nationality). I found the surround version to give me concert hall filling sound. It is glorious.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV