Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski's first recording was a lovely and intimate recital of Finnish songs with pianist Marita Viitasalo. Her second recording was much more ambitious -- a full disc of Strauss' orchestral songs closing with the Vier letzte Lieder accompanied by Marek Janowski leading the Berliner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester -- and much more successful -- it won a Gramophone award in 2002. After that, Isokoski released superb discs of Mozart arias and Wolf lieder along with heartfelt recitals of hymns in Finnish and Finnish sacred songs. Finally, in 2006, she released a disc of the music she was born and trained to sing: Luonnotar and other orchestral songs by the greatest Finnish composer of all time: Jean Sibelius.
It is a wholly magnificent achievement. Isokoski has a pure soprano voice with seemingly no upper edge and apparently no technical limit -- even in Luonnotar, her voice soars effortlessly over the orchestral accompaniement of Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic. If this disc has a catch, it's that not all the orchestrations are by Sibelius; some were done by other hands, including those of Jussi Jalas, his conducting son-in-law. The non-Sibelius orchestrations are quite lush, lusher perhaps than Sibelius himself would have done, but with touches -- woodwinds in thirds against high harp arpeggios, for example -- the master would have recognized as his own. Do the non-Sibelius orchestrated songs sound like Sibelius? No, not quite. They sound more romantic and even more sensual. Still, with the awesome beauty of Isokoski's performances along with the deft nuances of Segerstam and the Helsinki's accompaniments, this disc is never less than completely convincing. Ondine's super audio sound is thoroughly transparent -- nothing exists except the music.