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SACD Review

Jean Sibelius

Kullervo, Op. 7

  • Symphonic Poem for Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra
Soile Isokosi, mezzo-soprano
Tommi Hakala, baritone
YL Male Voice Choir
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Ondine ODE1122-5 78m Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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Sibelius' Kullervo symphonic poem was one of the very first works which I happened to start listening to in my youth when I got the classical music bug and its sense of mystery and awe has never left me. I was weaned on the famous Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund set on EMI which is still my favourite version after having heard quite a few different outings in the past two decades.

Segerstam has the fame of being an idiosyncratic conductor and he does have touches which occasionally are slightly eccentric but he does know his Sibelius rather well and this is typically demonstrated in the length and breadth which he gives to this early work. The orchestral playing from the HPO is top drawer stuff especially in the mystic and atmospheric opening which is sometimes so hard to bring off.

The soloists are excellent throughout although Hakala is somewhat different from the legendary Jorma Hynninnen who is still hors conceurs in this work. Segerstam unites dramatic and powerful forces together in the massive Finale which ends the work on a satisfying note. With superb SACD sound all round, there is nothing but an unqualified recommendation for this Kullervo which easily sits alongside the two Berglund versions as one of the most satisfying available.

Copyright © 2009, Gerald Fenech