Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Kullervo, symphonic poem for soloists, chorus and orchestra Op.7 (1892) [78:29]
(I Introduction: Allegro moderato [14:00]; II. Kullervo’s Youth: Grave [15:56]; III. Kullervo and his sister: Allegro vivace [24:19]; IV. Kullervo goes to war: Alla Marcia [9:38]; V. Kullervo’s death: Andante [14:32])
Randi Stene (mezzo); Peter Mattei (baritone)
National Male Choir of Estonia
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. Stockholm, 14-19 March 1997. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6286522 [78:29]
The four discs’ worth of Sibelius recorded by Paavo Järvi in the 1990s for Virgin have been an artistically and commercially rewarding lode. They have been multiply reissued and repackaged and they certainly justify all the attention. Before the present bargain price reissue this Kullervo came out in 2007 (review) on Virgin Classics 3913632. All four CDs were issued first at full price then in a box at very little less than full price. After that came a series some of which have been reviewed here. To top the sequence all four discs have been announced for imminent reissue as a new 4 CD budget box on Virgin Classics 6484032. None of these readings or recordings are let-downs (though the opera The Maiden has its longueurs) so you may want to wait for the box unless you already have the tone poems double and the rare choral works disc.
There aren’t any real duds among the recorded Kullervos - it has been very fortunate on disc. This goes some way to redress its long enforced silence after the premiere until Jussi Jalas conducted it a few years after the composer’s death - I have always wanted to hear that performance and it was issued on a very limited circulation LP. Another period of obscurity followed until Paavo Berglund’s ground-breaking recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for EMI Classics circa 1971. The visionary gleam was not replicated in Berglund’s second EMI production with the Helsinki orchestra. Since then recordings by Salonen (Sony), Segerstam (Chandos CHAN9393, Ondine), Panula (Naxos), Vänskä (Bis), Davis (RCA, LSO Live), Rasilainen and the exceptional performance by Spano on Telarc have kept the work in front of an enthusiastic public. The overwhelming quality of the music leaves us confounded as to the composer’s ban on performance.
Järvi has a very effective and emphatic way with Kullervo. The way he etches and adumbrates themes through fine attention to dynamic and flexible tempo - notably in Kullervo’s Youth - is very telling indeed. Järvi lets no detail pass without attention - often fresh and with touching nuance as in the breathtaking shimmer of the violins in Kullervo’s death. In Kullervo and his sister the choir’s spit and bark as well as their Puccinian tenderness work extremely well. The tow soloists are satisfying indeed. The sound of the brass benches is captured with special bite - heavy with almond-bitter. They take on a more open aureate sound in Kullervo goes to war.
Among the not numerous budget price Kullervos this one stands superior. Its only competition is the Panula Naxos 1996 recording which cannot quite match the detailing of Mike Hatch’s engineering for Virgin. Pity there’s no text/translation.
Rob Barnett 

Among the not numerous budget price Kullervos this one stands superior.