Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite - Mälkki

Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite - Mälkki

BIS  BIS-2638

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite, Karelia Suite, Rakastava

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Susanna Mälkki (conductor)

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PCM recording
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - February 5, 2024

Having recently completed a highly acclaimed series of recordings featuring works by Béla Bartók for the prestigious BIS label, Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra shift their focus closer to home with a generous and beautifully recorded SACD, showcasing a selection of early orchestral works by Jean Sibelius.

In this 78-minute musical journey, Mälkki's prowess as a conductor shines through, elevating these well-known pieces to new heights. Despite the abundance of recordings for the featured compositions, Mälkki's interpretations are always worth exploring, as is evident in this captivating collection.

The opening performance of the popular Karelia Suite sets the tone with Mälkki's poised and nuanced direction, highlighting the exceptional quality of musicianship within the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. The delicate and tender rendition of 'Rakastava' (The Lover), in its familiar arrangement for strings with added triangle and timpani in the outer movements, demonstrates Mälkki's careful shaping of this exquisite work, and though ‘Rakastava’ is the only work on this SACD to be recorded at public concerts there is no trace of the presence of an audience to disturb the rapt atmosphere created by Mälkki and her responsive Helsinki musicians.

Moving on to Sibelius's Lemminkäinen legends Op.22, Mälkki guides us through these symphonic poems with finesse. The first legend, 'Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island,' unfolds vividly with carefully measured pacing, capturing both the sensuousness and drama inherent in the music. In 'The Swan of Tuonela,' the cor anglais of Paula Malmivaara and the unnamed cello soloist shine. They are skilfully balanced within the orchestral texture and the avoidance of any spotlighting adds depth to this evocative piece.
Arguably the greatest challenge for conductors is the brooding 'Lemminkäinen in Tuonela,' yet Mälkki navigates its atmospheric complexities with confidence, while the final piece, 'Lemminkäinen’s Return' is as thrilling as any on disc.

The BIS 5.0 multi-channel recording, crafted in the Helsinki Music Centre by the experienced recording team of producer Robert Suff and recording engineer Enno Mäemets, is a testament to the label's commitment to excellence, delivering crisp, spacious, and finely detailed sound.

As of December 2021, Susanna Mälkki's announcement of stepping down as the chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra by the end of the 2022-2023 season adds a bittersweet note to this recording. However, with Mälkki now serving as the chief conductor emeritus, one can only hope for more outstanding recordings from her in the future.

In conclusion, Susanna Mälkki's latest collaboration with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is a testament to her interpretative skill and the orchestra's exceptional musicianship, making this SACD a must-listen for both seasoned enthusiasts and newcomers to Sibelius's orchestral repertoire.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars
Comments (12)

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - February 5, 2024 (1 of 12)

Thanks Graham for highlighting this album. It is absolutely wonderful and among my many Sibelius albums, this one will get the most play time. I downloaded both the stereo and surround versions. Listening to the stereo version on headsets was amazing. Instruments were clear, well placed in the soundstage and offered a warm and engaging sound. I then listened to the surround version. Soundstage was broad and deep. All instruments were clear and well placed. The recording allows each instrument to present an attractive quality. Everything was balanced and flows effortlessly. The wind instruments were particularly emotionally engaging. I would highly recommend this album.


Comment by Graham Williams - February 11, 2024 (2 of 12)

Hi Marcus

So glad to hear that you enjoyed this album as much as I did.
Also thank you for your further comments regarding the sonics that fully match my own view of them.


Comment by hiredfox - February 20, 2024 (3 of 12)

I confess to being a little disappointed by this release. Susanna Mälkki's conducting style is genial and harmonious with some emphasis on creating haunting atmospheres, which suits some of these works perfectly well especially the Lemminkäinen Suite but it works less well for others such as Karelia in which I would have liked more drive and aggression. Nevertheless it is a reasonably enjoyable compilation of works and well worth having in one's collection.

The recording is generally satisfactory with average stage width, good stage depth and realistic instrumental tones, especially the Cor Anglais and basses. Sadly, the soundstage lacks inner detail and precision leading to difficulty in locating instrument and even sections sometimes, so following individual lines and phrasing is problematic. Mälkki does not challenge the dynamic range.

Much depends on how one listens of course and I am sadly a bit of an anorak when it comes to listening sessions. Readers will also know that I rely on a high quality stereo system to create the accurate three dimensional images that simulate live performance. At least one of these works was recorded at a public performance which might be telling in SQ.

I have no recourse to a decent mch system so cannot comment on the overall sound quality of a recording that was likely intended for a 5-channel playback system. Having said that many BIS recordings have been exemplary in stereo not least the recent Gluzman recording of Vasks Violin Concerto Vasks: Distant Light, Piano Quartet, Summer Dances - Gluzman, Lintu.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - February 21, 2024 (4 of 12)

Dave Hurwitz just released a review of this album. He was very impressed. Here's the link:

Comment by hiredfox - February 23, 2024 (5 of 12)

I listened through David's piece, thank you Marcus.

Essentially he liked the performance with a few reservations that more or less match my own. He does not have a great deal to say about the recording quality 'though.

As always with David, he has a tendency to drift off course from time to time. Symphony it is not!

Comment by Graham Williams - February 23, 2024 (6 of 12)

He says 'the sonics are gorgeous' what more do you want him to say?

Comment by hiredfox - February 24, 2024 (7 of 12)

What on earth does that mean?

Comment by breydon_music - February 25, 2024 (8 of 12)

I guess it means he likes it, and so do I. I thought the sonics were impressive throughout this disc and I liked her way with the performances - as you say, particularly "lemminkainen" but Karelia too. This little gem will take all sorts of approaches - I wonder if you ever heard Sargent's with the VPO on an early HMV stereo ASD - he really took it at quite a lick. Perhaps it was a Friday afternoon session! At a tangent, given your admiration for the Vasks, you might care to investigate the Viola Concerto with Rysanov, issued by BIS in series with the Gluzman, and the Cello Concerto on an Ondine disc conducted by John Storgards. Both very much out of the same mould.

Comment by hiredfox - February 25, 2024 (9 of 12)

Thanks for the heads-up on the Ondine disc, hopefully it is still available to buy.

I try to be as honest as possible when contributing to the hraudio 'forum' and report only what I hear. I attend weekly orchestral concerts so always have the 'concert hall sound' fresh in mind during a listening test of a new (to me) disc and assess ten different parameters in order to try to convey to others potential purchasers of that disc, any strengths or weaknesses of sound quality as I hear them..

David's rather throw away remark about liking the recording means diddly squat to a potential buyer without him providing greater insight into "why". He may have been listening casually and not fully focused on the many SQ parameters or even using it as background music?

Comment by breydon_music - February 26, 2024 (10 of 12)

Of course I do understand where you're coming from on this. By the way, I personally owe you two "thank you's" over the last little while - first of all the Schubert Janowski disc which has given me much pleasure both as a performance and recording, and your timely reminder of the merits of the Gluzman Vasks disc which has been around for 3 or 4 years now but like too many has become overlooked on my shelves. I played it again following your comments - how present Gluzman sounds in the cadenzas and what a stunning work. By the way you may like to know that the "real" Pentatone people have recorded a Schumann symphony cycle with Janowski which is scheduled (in Japan anyway!!) for April release. The recording will obviously be stunning, and hopefully the performances too, so something to look forward to.

Comment by hiredfox - February 27, 2024 (11 of 12)

Thank you for your very kind comments.

Comment by DYB - March 20, 2024 (12 of 12)

I have not listened to this yet and I do generally like Mälkki. She may be a more "lyrical" conductor than some. I recently listened to her recording of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra and it is now one of my favorite recordings of that piece.