Spano clearly has his
own ideas about Kullervo, a work
that since the 1980s has been multiply
recorded after decades of composer-sanctioned
purdah. It emerged from the shadows
in 1971, in a recording that remains
the gold standard, Paavo Berglund’s
EMI recording with the Bournemouth.
That two LP boxed set EMI SLS807 held
sway unchallenged until the CD era at
which point a host of versions have
appeared including a Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchestra/Berglund remake for EMI in
1985, Panula, Salonen, Segerstam, Järvi
(both Neeme and Paavo), Vänskä,
two versions from Colin Davis, Saraste
and one very recently and as yet unheard
from Ari Rasilainen (CPO).
The Telarc publicity
material claims this as a first recording
of Kullervo with an English-speaking
chorus. I am sure this must be right.
All the other versions if not actually
recorded in Finland or elsewhere in
the Scandinavian countries, imported
a Finnish choir. However the Atlanta
Men’s Chorus carry off their important
role with all the barking resonance,
massed weight and thudding attack that
you could wish for. They do this without
a hint of American accent. Of course
the piece is sung in Finnish exactly
as it should be and the unanimity with
which they spit out ‘reki rasasi’ is
spot-on. You can read more about the
chorus’s preparation work in the note
that appears at the end of this review.
Their hard work and that of their coach
and of the choir’s Jeff Baxter, assistant
director of choruses and Director of
Choruses Norman MacKenzie has paid dividends.
Next February the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Chorus will be singing Rachmaninov’s
Bells under the RLPO’s brilliant
new conductor Vasily Petrenko http://www.liverpoolphil.com/eventdetail.aspx?Event_ID=1036
. If they can achieve the sturdily authentic
effect borne high by the Atlanta Chorus
in Kullervo they will have done
well indeed. Both Gunn - who was new
to me - and Hellekant – known from her
recording of Nystroem’s Svetlanov-led
Sinfonia del Mare http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2001/Apr01/nystroem.htm
– have the necessary brooding fire and
Right from the very
start Spano impresses with dulled rhythmic
lines cloaked in a mysterious miasma.
There are throughout this reading a
myriad freshly imagined touches and
balance emphases which will joy the
heart of true Sibelians. Just occasionally
– pretty rare really - I detected a
fine veneer of misplaced sentimentality.
There are two fleeting examples in Kullervo
Goes to Battle at 6.30 and in Kullervo’s
Death at 1:34. However these are
transients and what one feels is a radiantly
strong sense of rightness. This is mirrored
in the weighed down world-weariness
of the despairing yet magnificent march
in the final movement from 7.23 onwards.
Few have conveyed so well the arching
tragedy of this work.
None of the versions
I have heard has been poor but this
one can count among its peers the excellent
recordings by Salonen (Sony), the expansive
but immensely and enigmatically successful
Colin Davis first version on RCA-BMG
(82876-55706-2) and of course the first
Berglund analogue recording on EMI Classics.
Full notes plus words
and parallel translation are in the
You should note that
I heard this in the CD version. There
is also a separate SACD under Telarc
A triumph for all concerned.
Few have conveyed so well as Spano the
arching tragedy of this work and the
male chorus are magnificently idiomatic
... see Full Review
NOTE FROM TELARC
"The all-volunteer Atlanta Symphony
Orchestra Chorus learned Finnish in
order to perform this piece. Jeff Baxter,
assistant director of choruses in Atlanta
and a tenor in the ASO chorus, began
learning the language from a native
speaker about a year ago, in preparation
for training the chorus to sing the
piece. The Finnish native speaker did
not know music, so she intoned the syllables,
and then Baxter and Director of Choruses
Norman MacKenzie made a phonetic translation.
The chorus undertook months of preparation,
including drilling on Monday nights
on the language alone.
"What really impressed me was the
chorus," said Producer Elaine Martone.
"They gave 150 percent, molding
the phrases and singing with such passion
and beauty that it took my breath away.
On Sunday, at about 3:30 (the midway
point of the recording) there was such
a level of excitement that I felt completely