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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lemminkäinen Suite. Tapiola
Eugene Ormandy, cond; Paavo Berglund, cond;
Philadelphia O; Helsinki PO
EMI 88679 (61:09)
Perhaps the most memorable concert I have ever attended was an all-Sibelius program given by the Philadelphia Orchestra during the Sibelius centennial year of 1965. The program opened with special guest conductor Jussi Jalas (Sibelius’s son-in-law)
conducting the Seventh Symphony, after which Music Director Ormandy took over podium duty and David Oistrakh was the soloist in the Violin Concerto. I was seated in a special section of folding chairs set up for students in the pit area of the Academy of Music, no more than 15 feet from Oistrakh, looking straight up at him, and completely mesmerized by his rich, vibrant sound. The second half of the program consisted of a long-time Ormandy specialty, the
Four Legends from the Kalevala
, op. 22, more commonly known as the
. It was spectacular.
Ormandy and the Philadelphia had recorded the
complete in 1951—the first, or one of the first, complete recordings—and it is a magnificent reading, compromised only by the pre-stereo sonics. Unfortunately, there was no remake at the time of the concert I attended, but Ormandy finally recorded the entire work in stereo in 1978. This recording was first released on an Angel LP, then on an early EMI CD, and is one of the best of his late recordings, both with regard to sound quality and in terms of the music-making; this is its first reissue since 1983. Many of Ormandy’s performances in the 1970s had suffered from a disturbing tendency to plod, but here he finds much of his old fire, and the total timing of this recording is less than two minutes longer than that of the 1951 version.
Lemminkäinen is one of the major heroes of the
, the Finnish national epic; the
, in the “Eroica” key of E?, depicts four episodes from his story. The second and fourth movements (Sibelius inverted the order of the middle movements when he revised the full work for publication in 1939), “The Swan of Tuonela” and “Lemminkäinen’s Return,” are well known as individual tone poems, but some of the strongest music is in the two lesser-known movements, “Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island” and “Lemminkäinen in Tuonela.” In the first of these, the hero seduces an entire island of maidens; Ormandy brings out the rather explicit eroticism of this music better than any other conductor on record. English hornist Louis Rosenblatt (shamefully, not credited anywhere on either CD issue) is exquisite as the voice of the Swan, and the homeward journey of the last movement is an appropriately headlong rush at 6:15; but, you really must hear the 1951 version, which races to a thrilling conclusion at 5:26!
Alternate versions, or at least the 10 or so I have heard, all fall short of either Ormandy recording in bringing across the varying moods of this tetralogy; among those in modern sound, the Vänskä version on BIS is indispensable to serious Sibelians mostly because it includes the original 1896 versions of the outer two movements; the 1989 Saraste version for RCA (a “filler” for the Seventh in his first recorded Symphony cycle, now long out of print) is otherwise the most impressive interpretively, and is captured in excellent sound. I also retain a warm spot in my heart for Lukas Foss’s Nonesuch LP with the Buffalo Symphony, but good luck finding it!
Clearly, then, Ormandy’s is the version to have. Two caveats: first, while the sound doesn’t seem noticeably different from that of the earlier CD issue, two oboe triplet figures in the opening legend’s introduction (an important motive as the movement develops), at 0:43 and 1:21, somehow get swallowed up as if eaten by an overly ravenous CEDAR noise-reduction unit; they sound fine in the original CD issue. Second, the filler, the 1987
from Berglund’s second Sibelius cycle, is taken so fast as to eliminate any real impact. (It’s a most peculiar coupling in the first place—Sibelius’s last major composition tacked onto a performance of a work that predates the First Symphony.) The timing of 14:52 (the 15:15 given on the back of the jewel box is incorrect) is a land speed record, at least among the 22 versions I checked. Even Berglund himself, in his 1972 Bournemouth Symphony version, took 18:40! Good alternatives include the old Beecham/RPO version on EMI, the Järvi recording on DG, and the Davis/London Symphony version on RCA.
The main item, however, is the
, the finest-available version of one of the best early compositions by the Finnish master. At a budget price, no less, this one’s a no-brainer.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
Works on This Recording
Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 by Jean Sibelius
Written: 1893/1895; Finland
Date of Recording: 02/1978
Venue: The Old Met, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Length: 16 Minutes 12 Secs.
Tapiola, Op. 112 by Jean Sibelius
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1926; Finland
Date of Recording: 08/1987
Venue: Culture Hall, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 15 Minutes 15 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
MY CUP RUNNETH OVER,,, November 18, 2014
By Zita Carno (Tampa, FL) See All My Reviews
"What a day for Sibelius! In the afternoon, a rousing "Finlandia",and then a little after 1 AM, the complete "Four Legends from the Kalevala", otherwise known as the Lemminkainen Suite. Ormandy and the Philly Orchestra delivered a highly respectable performance, but there were a couple of quibbles: first, there could have been more of a separation between the movements---they seemed to run one into the other---and second, the fourth movement, "Lemminkainen's Return", while nowhere approaching adagio-con-schleppo territory, was a little too slow---ever try driving with the brakes on? The most exciting was the third movement in which Lemminkainen runs into trouble, gets turned into chop suey, but is rescued and restored to life by his mom. I also had an issue with the trumpet section---too loud and more than a little blatty. But overall, a very good performance for the time... I've been reading a few sections of the Kalevala dealing with the adventures and misadventures of our hero---there's an excellent translation of this epic into English, and as I mentioned earlier, the Kalevala and the Longfellow epic "The Song of Hiawatha" have the same metric scheme, so there is a connection."