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Sibelius's "Kullervo"


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Author Topic: Sibelius's "Kullervo"  (Read 577 times)
Dundonnell
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« on: August 15, 2015, 05:54:16 pm »

I have known "Kullervo" since buying Paavo Berglund's pioneering recording on LP back in 1971.
I suppose that over the years I had thought it immature, overlong, a collection of symphonic poems tacked together, though very impressive in parts.
I had certainly never thought that I would hear the work live in concert.
Not long ago I returned from a performance of "Kullervo" at the Edinburgh Festival: Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and RSNO Chorus Male Voices (90 strong).
It was one of the most profoundly moving and electrifyingly exciting musical experiences of my life. Gardner conducted like a man possessed, his wonderfully passionate commitment to the piece gave it a unity and totality. The RSNO played as if their very lives depended on it with full-bodied, rich strings and resplendent brass. The chorus sounded echt Finnish and attacked with fantastic choral ferocity.
I realised-much more clearly now than ever before-how the ambition of the 27 year old composer produces a work which was so ground-breaking and which must have been so incredibly moving to the Finnish audience of the time.
And as I listened to the sad but ultimately triumphant final movement "Kullervo's Death" I was moved to tears by what must be one of the most glorious closing few minutes in choral music.
A revelation! And proof once again of the power and impact of live music in the concert hall.
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Ulalume
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2015, 08:57:13 pm »

I first heard Kullervo also with Berglund but in the Helsinki remake. It is very much in the mold of early Sibelius like Lemminkainen and, especially, the Wooden Nymph. I don't find it inferior to those other orchestral works.

I didn't figure at that time that the structure of Kullervo consist of the imbrication of two components. A four-movement symphony with a vocal finale and, in the middle of it, a cantata in one movement.

I think Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony suffers the same undeserved prejudice of being long-winded.
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tapiola
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2015, 09:38:47 pm »

I have to admit, when I first heard "Kullervo" (Berglund's Bournemouth version) I was 20.  From that point on, my life was never the same.  All for the better.  Wink
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Latvian
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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2016, 11:02:29 pm »

Thank you, Dundonnell, for your glowing appraisal of "Kullervo."

Like you, my introduction to the work was the first Berglund recording, which I eagerly purchased as a college freshman with my meager funds as soon as its release was announced. Being obsessed with Sibelius at the time I was thrilled to encounter a previously unheard large-scale symphonic work of his. The central movement, "Kullervo and His Sister," blew me away! The dramatic power of the music astounded me and I was mystified by Sibelius' suppression of the complete work for over 60 years. But, I did have reservations about the unity of the work and it struck me as more of a suite than a symphony.

As with numerous "unsung" works that affected me powerfully over the years, I sought out subsequent recordings. Like Dundonnell, I had reservations about the cohesiveness of the work and wanted to better understand it. The second Berglund recording left me cold and I felt it lacked the power of his first version. Around the same time I found a used copy of a limited-edition LP set of Jussi Jalas' 1958 performance of the work -- the first complete performance in 65 years of the complete work, done shortly after Sibelius' death. Jalas, of course, was Sibelius' son-in-law, and as such likely had special insight in the work. Anyway, this performance added more appreciation of the work, but I still wasn't fully convinced of its cohesion.

While the first Berglund recording is still magnificent, a couple of years ago I came upon the Spano recording and was blown away anew. Apart from superb musicianship, the sound is stunning. While I still long to hear a live performance of the work, this recording produced much the same effect that Dundonnell described. At last, I felt as though I understood the unity of the work and felt its full power. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in "Kullervo" to seek out the Spano recording if it's not already on your shelf.
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dhibbard
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2016, 02:45:16 am »

Thanks Latvian for the recommendation of Spano... I have the Neeme Jarvi version and the Leif Segerstam version, but I'll seek out the Spano version..
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2016, 03:06:47 am »

Indeed, thanks for the recommendation of the Spano.

I bought the Osmo Vanska/Lahti SO version on BIS relatively recently and the Esa-Pekka Salonen/Los Angeles SO version on Sony some years ago and have been very impressed by both.

I do often think that a Finnish conductor, orchestra and chorus have a special insight into the sound world. Now I have never been a particular admirer of Jukka-Pekka Saraste but his Kullervo has received glowing praise from many critics. Here he is with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2002. I shall be most interested in your comments Smiley

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Dundonnell
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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2016, 03:41:33 am »

....and here is the self-same Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is a very young Salonen....but I think that in this performance he really is inspired!
There is a real sense of awe about the music and it builds to the most shattering climax.....and WHAT a climax it is-so wonderfully powerful and so profoundly moving.

« Last Edit: January 24, 2017, 01:29:27 am by Dundonnell » Report Spam   Logged
Latvian
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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2016, 09:47:56 pm »

I should have mentioned in my comments that Salonen's was my modern recording of choice prior to encountering Spano's. Indeed, it's excellent!

Vanska's BIS recording is on my list of things to listen to at some point -- I have an MP3 download of it but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Thanks for the recommendation of the Saraste. I'll add it to the list of future evaluations along with Vanska.

Yes, a Finnish conductor is probably the ideal for really understanding and innately feeling the nuances of Sibelius and Finnish music in general. I feel much the same way about Latvian conductors and Latvian music, especially works from the Romantic period. As someone who grew up in the tradition (albeit as part of the Latvian diaspora),  I can attest that there are many, many very subtle nuances of interpretation, especially in works with a basis in folksong, which a non-Latvian with a superficial understanding of Latvian music would not innately and idiomatically sense and feel. Not that it can't be done, but a certain amount of immersion is necessary at a minimum. As an example, I love Vasily Sinaisky's recordings of various Ivanovs symphonies and I feel they capture the essence of the music, but Dmitri Yablonsky doesn't do it for me. Of course, Sinaisky had the advantage of living in Latvia for many years and more opportunity to absorb cultural influences.
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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2017, 01:12:51 am »

I admit that I'm not a huge Salonen fan. But I managed to obtain the entire series of video performances of Salonen conducting all the Sibelius symphonies, including Kullervo. When I watched/heard that performance, I realized that it was, in fact, a much better work that I expected. So, I'm with you, Dundonnell. I tracked down every commercial recording I could find, as well as some broadcasts. I guess I imprinted on that Salonen video. I still return to it periodically for my Kullervo fix.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2017, 01:31:27 am »

I found that the link I provided to the Salonen performance had been replaced by "This video does not exist".

I have reinstored the link and it is currently working but......who knows?

Salonen is now 58 years of age. He was with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1984-1995 and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra from 1992-2009. He has been with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London since 2008 (although his present contract expires this year).

He took over the Swedish orchestra when he was only 26. I don't know when his performance of Kullervo was filmed but it has all the required ardour and the youthful conductor certainly supplied the ardour and the necessary conviction in the work. Although the cameraman spends maybe too much time on the conductor I am taken not only by Salonen's evident belief in the music but by his conducting style-the beautiful beat, the fluency of his movements and the "aristocratic grace" (if I may call it that) he brings to the podium. There are no vulgar and unnecessary histrionics.

As we know, Sibelius himself appears to have had little confidence or faith in his own early composition......so it becomes any conductor tackling the work to demonstrate that the composer was wrong. The conductor has to inspire soloists, chorus and orchestra with his own blazing conviction!
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