Although it is not offered at a budget price, this is, in effect, a sampler of Ondine's recordings from the past decade. Its subtitle is "The Ultimate Finnish Orchestral Favorites." Nevertheless, with the exception of Finlandia and Valse triste (both by Sibelius), the material is unfamiliar, which makes me wonder whose "favorites" these are!
It is better, perhaps, to regard this CD as a sampling of music that might be included among your favorites at some point in the near future. It's an attractive collection, whose wide range includes the elegiac (Heino Kaski's Prélude) and the sardonic (four movements, including a Shostakovich parody, from Einar Englund's Great Wall of China), and really not so much of the frankly patriotic. An exception is the last work on this CD: over fourteen minutes long, Uuno Klami's Karelian Rhapsody is the longest work here. Written in the tradition of nationalistic rhapsodies by Enescu and Alfvén, it tries hard to duplicate their successes, and not without some success of its own.
Finlandia is represented by an unusual version for orchestra and mixed chorus. The impact of the chorus singing the hymn tune is predictably grand. Unfortunately, the performance (Eri Klas conducting the Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra) is the weakest on the CD – Klas has trouble keeping his large forces together, and the intonation of the orchestra's brass is not pleasant. Elsewhere, the varied musicianship on this CD is fine enough to give the music an honest chance.
Ondine has hindered the market outside of Finland by providing a booklet that contains nothing but a track listing. A few words about each of the pieces would have been welcome. The source of this CD is seven different Ondine releases, yet there are no jarring sonic transitions from track to track. This attests to the consistency of Ondine's engineering teams, if nothing else.
The verdict is as follows: great music, but get this CD for the music you don't know, not for the music you do.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle