Osmo Vänskä

Sibelius: The Origin of Fire

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Most of the music on this disc has never been recorded before, and it presents a Sibelius different from the one most listeners are used to, at least outside Finland. Some of these works were originally written for male choir, while others were arranged for the ancestor of the choir that performs on this recording, the YL Male Voice Choir of the University of Helsinki. The music, arising during an era in which Finland was in the middle of a long process of throwing off Russian control, runs on a continuum from Wagner-like interest in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, to out-and-out patriotic songs like the "Jääkärien Marssi, Op. 91a." Several of the pieces are semi-dramatic cantatas with big, unsubtle effects quite unlike the elaborate logic of the later Sibelius orchestral music, but there are also links in orchestration and thematic material to Sibelius' earlier instrumental music; sample track 4, Vapautettu Kuningatar, for instance, which is of a piece stylistically with much of the Symphony No. 2. The YL Male Voice Choir obviously sings from a position of great familiarity with the music, executing everything cleanly and vigorously. This includes the long, often rhythmically very free "Rakastava" (The Lover), which is a real challenge for choral singers with its mixture of harmonic density, a rather bombastic quality, and a complex relationship between choir and soloists. The accompaniment from Finland's Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä is solid, and in general, although this music may not be for everybody, this disc is a must for Sibelius lovers who may not have fully appreciated that his nationalist streak did not begin or end with Finlandia. Notes are in English, Finnish, German, and French, but texts are in Finnish and English only.

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