Leif Segerstam

Sibelius: Kullervo

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Every recording released of Kullervo proves Sibelius' aesthetic judgment was wrong when he forbid performances of the work during his long lifetime. A five-movement symphony-cum-symphonic poem-cum-oratorio-cum-opera, Kullervo may have seemed unwieldy in its time, but starting with Paavo Berglund's premiere recording in 1985, the work has taken its rightful place in the canon as the progenitor of Sibelius' mature style and as a valid and affecting work in its own right. This 2008 Ondine release with Leif Segerstam leading the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the YL Male Voice Choir not only ranks with the best of recent memory -- Osmo Vänskä and the Jukka-Pekka Saraste's recordings -- but Segerstam finds something new to say about the piece. By blending the epic-symphonic and the lyric-dramatic elements of the score into a cogent musical whole, Segerstam makes the best case for the work. With the powerful, colorful, and deeply committed playing of the Helsinki Philharmonic, the outer movements have the heft and control of symphonic arguments. And with the brawny but expressive baritone Tommi Hakala in the title role and the pure but passionate soprano Soile Isokoski as his sister, the central movement sounds more than ever like a scene from an opera. Captured in super audio sound that envelops the listener in the performances, this recording deserves to be heard by anyone who relishes Sibelius.

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