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YL – The voice of Sibelius
Six Songs, Op. 18 for male choir a cappella [11:49]
(1. Sortunut ääni (The Broken Voice) (1898)
[1:20]; 2. Treve kuu (Hail, O Moon) (1901)
[3:10]; 3. Venematka (The Boat Journey) (1893)
[1:34]; 4. Saarella palaa (Fire on the Island)
(1895) [1:23]; 5. Metsämiehen laulu (The Woodsman’s
Song) (1899) [1:36]; 6. Sydämeni laulu (Song
of my Heart) (1898) [2:12])
7. Rakastava (The Lover), JS 160b (1894 – version
for tenor, male choir and string orchestra) [6:28]
8. Koskenlaskijan morsiamet (The Rapid-Rider’s
Brides), Op. 33 (1897, arr. 1943 – version for male choir
and orchestra) [8:36]
9. Tulen synty (The Origin of Fire), for baritone,
male choir and orchestra, Op. 32 (1902 – original version)
10. Vapautettu kuningatar (The Captive Queen),
Op. 48 (1906, arr. 1910 – version for male choir and
11. Hymn (Natus in curas) for male choir a
cappella, Op. 21 (1896 – original version) [3:55]*
12. Kuutamolla (In the Moonlight), for male
choir a cappella, JS 114 (1898) [1:53]
13. Isänmaalle (To the Fatherland), for male choir a
cappella, JS 98b (1899 – original version) [1:47]*
14. Verjeni vierailla mailla (My Brothers Abroad),
for male choir a cappella, JS 217 (1904) [3:13]
15. Har du mod? (Have You Courage?), for male
choir and orchestra, Op. 31 No. 2 (1904 – first version)
16. Laulu Lemminkäiselle (A Song for Lemminkäinen),
for male choir and orchestra, Op. 31 No 1 (1896) [4:08]
17. Jääkärien marssi (March of the Finnish Jäger
Battalion), Op. 91a (1917, orch. 1918 – version for male
choir and orchestra) [2:23]
18. Till havs (To Sea) for male choir a cappella,
Op. 84 No. 5 (1917 – draft version) [1:59]*
Two Songs, Op. 108 (1925) for male choir a cappella [6:19]
19. 1. Humoreski (Humoresque) [3:28]
20. 2. Ne pitkän matkan kulkijat (Wanderers on
the Long Way) [2:44]
21. Finlandia-Hymni (Finlandia Hymn) for male
choir a cappella, from Op. 26 (1899/1900, arr.
Nyman (tenor) (7); Tommi Hakala (baritone) (9)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä (7-10, 15-17)
YL Male Voice Choir/Matti Hyökki
rec. Nya Paviljongen, Kauniainen, Finland, April 2006
(1-6, 11-14, 19, 21), September 2006 (18, 20); Sibelius
Hall, Lahti, Finland, January 2005 (7, 8), May 2005 (9,
10), January 2006 (15); Church of the Cross (Ristinkirkko),
Lahti, Finland, January 2000 (16, 17). DDD
Texts and English translations enclosed.
* denotes World Premiere Recording
choir in Finland or elsewhere has a longer tradition
singing the music of Sibelius than YL – the Helsinki
University-based male voice choir. It was founded in
1883. When Kullervo was premiered in 1892 singers
from YL formed the backbone of the male choir. When,
the following year, Sibelius started writing music for
male choir a cappella his very first composition, Venematka,
was written for YL’s tenth anniversary. The song was
later published as No. 3 of the Six Songs Op.
18. The BIS booklet lists the Sibelius works that the
choir premiered and it comprises more than half of those
included here. These range from Venematka on 6
April 1893 to the official premiere with orchestra of Jääkärien
marssi on 19 January 1918.
tend to think of Sibelius as primarily a composer of
orchestral music but his vocal production is large. In
the solo songs as well as his music for choir there is
essentially the same monumental harshness and barrenness
as in his symphonic music – characteristics that largely
mirror the nature of Finland in both connotations of
the word: the geography as well as the disposition of
his solo songs Sibelius often chose Swedish poems but
when composing for choir it seems that Finnish came more
naturally. This may have something to do with the solo
song being private and individual while choral music
is collective and nationalistic. For much of his symphonic
music he drew inspiration from the Kalevala, the
Finnish national epos. Several of these choral pieces
are also settings of texts from the same source or the
poetic equivalent, the Kanteletar. Two of the
Op. 18 songs are also settings of texts by Aleksis Kivi,
the Finnish national writer who was the first professional
writer to publish his works in Finnish. He is best known
for the novel Seitsemän veljestä (1870, Seven
Brothers) which has historical importance for being the
first novel in the Finnish language.
member of a male choir from the late 1960s until the
early 1980s I also became familiar with Sibelius’s choral
music. Sortunut ääni, the first in Op. 18, was
often featured in our programmes. It is a powerful song,
short, but within the span of little more than a minute
it is an adventure for the singers as well as the audience.
The Finnish language, so rich on vowels, is also grateful.
In a way it sings itself. Coming back to the song after
almost thirty years I found that I still knew it – at
least partly – and could join in but only fragments of
the text remained in my memory. The words are from the Kanteletar,
and so is Saarella palaa, which was the most impressive
of the songs I didn’t already know. I have to admit that
good though my old choir was, we were no match for YL.
Swedish OD has claims to be one of the world’s best male
choirs but YL are on the same level. There is a homogeneity
in the sound that is stunning, no first tenors obtruding
from the texture – a flaw even in good choirs. Dynamic
shadings are also sensitively applied. This is due in
no small degree to the control exercised by the eminent
Matti Hyökki, who has been conductor of YL since 1980.
the remaining a cappella songs, Hymn, a
setting of a Latin text by Fridolf Gustafsson, is achingly
beautiful. This is one of three world premiere recordings
on the disc. The other two are more ordinary. Isänmaalle is
patriotic and will touch the heart-strings of nationalist
Finns, being written just around the turn of the last
century when there was growing opposition against the
rule of Russia. Till havs is a powerful maritime
canvas but it still feels pale in comparison with the
setting for solo voice by Swedish composer Gustav Nordqvist
(1886–1949), which was one of Jussi Björling’s show-pieces.
The best known of these songs is Finlandia-Hymni,
a setting of the hymn section from the orchestral composition.
It still evokes strong feelings among Finns as well as
Swedes with memories – direct or indirect – from WW2. Kuutamolla and Veljeni
vierailla mailla are two evocative songs that I regret
I haven’t heard before. They are both little gems which
I will be proud to play to choristers I know.
Rakastava is known primarily as a work for string orchestra but that is a much
later arrangement. It was written in 1894 for a competition
organized by YL and is for male choir a cappella with
tenor soloist. Sibelius also arranged it for mixed choir.
The version heard here has an accompaniment with strings
which Sibelius wrote to facilitate intonation problems.
I believe YL could have managed it without the strings
but in whatever shape it is performed it is among the
most beautiful music Sibelius ever wrote. The tenor soloist
Tom Nyman sings mellifluously.
three long compositions for choir and full orchestra, Koskenlaskijan
morsiamet, Tulen synty and Vapautettu kuningatar are
strong and powerful, showing Sibelius’s dramatic vein.
He may not have been disposed to write opera – his only
essay in the field, Jungfrun i tornet (1896),
is interesting but hardly a masterpiece. However he composed
a lot of incidental music so he certainly had an interest
in theatre and there is a kind of theatricality in these
works, even though the epic quality is most notable. Tulen
synty (The Origin of Fire), a setting of a text from Kalevala,
is an especially strong composition with violent contrasts
in dynamics and tempos and with great melodic appeal.
Tommi Hakala delivers an impressive dramatic reading
of the solo part with intensity in the Jorma Hynninen
mould. Hakala, who was born in 1970, was winner of the
BBC Singer of the World Competition in 2003.
and documentation are, as always with a BIS issue, exemplary,
though the print of the sung texts is too small. It should
be mentioned that at least the works with orchestra have
been issued before (BIS-CD-1525) but I haven’t been able
to find the a cappella works in the catalogue.
This is however in all respects an important issue. Even
if you do not have a specific interest in choral music
you should consider a purchase.
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