Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite - Mälkki
Classical - Orchestral
Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite, Karelia Suite, Rakastava
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Susanna Mälkki (conductor)
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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.
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