Thomas Dausgaard / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Lunds Studentsångare

Sibelius: Kullervo

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Jean Sibelius' Kullervo has had a spate of recordings in recent years, many of them from Scandinavian conductors. It's an undeniably exciting work, long dismissed because it's not made of the same stuff as Sibelius' numbered symphonies: it's straight late Romantic epic stuff with a Finnish accent. Sibelius called it a "Symphony for soprano and baritone soloists, male choir, and orchestra," but it's really a tone poem, or a set of them, based on a series of tragic episodes from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. The work has operatic aspects, not only because its large central movement has vocal participation (the male choir also enters in the fifth movement), but also in the detailed evocation of the action going on in the instruments. Conductor Thomas Dausgaard offers a fairly brisk, forward-moving reading that will have audiences tapping, or even on, their feet in the fourth movement, "Kullervo Goes to War," and in general his interpretation squares with the strongly patriotic aspect of the work discussed in the booklet notes. In the genuinely tragic third movent with the Lund Male Chorus in the Greek chorus role, the results are more mixed: the choir is a bit on the small side for this repertory, and the soloists, while competent, don't stick in your head. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, however, excels throughout; under Dausgaard, the group is developing a major specialty in Nordic music. This recording from the Glasgow City Halls is nicely rendered by Hyperion's engineers. Recommended.

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