Labeled a disc of Sibelius cantatas but more evocatively described in the liner notes as a collection of patriotic works for choir and orchestra, this release focuses on a part of the Sibelius repertory that performers have shunned for decades. These pieces represent not the darkly introspective Sibelius but rather the big, nationalistic, occasionally bombastic, and often Wagnerian Sibelius familiar from the composer's music of the 1890s, much of it written for the stage and/or concerned with the blood and guts of Finnish epic poetry. The starting point here for many listeners will be the final selection, the choral arrangement of Finlandia created by Sibelius in 1938 as darkness spread over Europe -- one of a very few works dating from the last 30 years of the composer's life. The rest of these pieces fall into the tradition of national-flavored choral music that was long proscribed by the tenets of high modernism but is now conceded to be great fun at times. Some may consign a piece or two to the potboiler category; parts of the Swedish-language battle cantata Sandels come off like rejected passages from The Pirates of Penzance. But many touches in the epic-type pieces, such as the unexpected spoken poetry in Snöfrid (1900), will reach out and grab an audience. Sibelius' nationalism was always concerned with natural beauty, and the radiant Oma maa (Our Native Land, 1918) seems in this wonderful recording by the Estonian National Male Choir and Ellerhein Girls' Choir a strong nominee for classical find of the year. Paavo Järvi is an ideal conductor for this music, drawing from the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra the precise string blasts and well-controlled brass sounds essential to the realization of Sibelius' orchestral textures. This recording unearths music that will be new to most and enjoyable for almost all.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim