Though most of its members are wearing sunglasses on the cover, the YL Male Voice Choir isn't kidding when it comes to this disc's title: YL The Voice of Sibelius. Since its founding in 1893 at Helsinki University, YL has participated in the premieres of nearly all Sibelius' works for male chorus, most famously his Kullervo Symphony. Indeed, many of the works on this disc were written for and dedicated to YL, and it is not too much to say that these performances are, for all intents and purposes, definitive. Led by Matti Hyökki, the YL has a strong but nuanced tone and a tight but supple ensemble combined with a burnished blend, a robust balance, and a vigorous sense of rhythm that suits Sibelius' music perfectly. The majority of the pieces on the program here come from the composer's first period when ardent patriotism and passionate expressivity were his music's foremost characteristics. Of the 21 works included, 14 are for male choir a cappella, while the other seven are scored for male choir plus orchestra and occasional male vocal soloists. The best-known work, of course, is Finlandia, and YL gives it a suitably full-throated performance. Perhaps the best works here are the two longest: The Origin of Fire and The Captive Queen for male choir and orchestra. Both works sound like prime Sibelius: restrained almost to the point of austerity, but intense and extremely effective. Accompanied by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä, the YL's performances will be mandatory listening for dedicated fans of the Finnish composer.
BIS' digital sound is warm, round, and deep.