Osmo Vänskä / Lahti Symphony Orchestra

The Legend of Jean Sibelius

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The Legend of Jean Sibelius is an evocative name for a two-disc set of the Finnish composer's best-known tone poems, plus his Violin Concerto performed by Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony with soloist Leonidas Kavakos. In essence, The Legend of Sibelius is made of up four things: his passionate youthful patriotism, his intense nature worship, his heroic maturity, and his long silence in old age. In these lean, strong, and colorful performances by Vänskä and the Lahti, Sibelius' patriotism roars in Finlandia and the Karelia Suite -- with the central Ballade sung with ardent sincerity by baritone Raimo Laukka in Finnish, his nature worship grows from The Wood-Nymph to The Oceanides, his heroic middle years glow in En Saga and Pohjola's Daughter, and the pre-echoes of silence ring in the haunted heroic landscape of Tapiola. Although a provincial orchestra, the Lahti's performances are all first-rate Finnish with tensile strings, luminous winds, full-bore brass, and percussion the size of mountains. Vänskä's interpretations are likewise first-rate Finnish with clear textures, quick tempos, light rhythms, and linear intensity. Kavakos' performance of the Violin Concerto may not measure up to the great international performances of the past, but it nevertheless is also first-rate Finnish with clean bow technique and tightly controlled vibrato. For listeners who would like to try a single set of Sibelius' orchestral works before plunging into his seven mighty symphonies, this is a fine place to start. BIS' sound is exemplary: translucent, immediate, and as real as reality.

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