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Leevi MADETOJA (1887-1947) Kullervo - Symphonic Poem (1913) [14.13]
Symphony No. 2 (1918) [41.33]
Elegy for strings, Op. 4/1 (1909) [5:53]
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. 29-30 May 2012, Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki, Finland ONDINE ODE 1212-2 [62:04]
The cause of Leevi Madetoja is being well served by the Finnish independent
label Ondine. By my reckoning this is their eighth Madetoja release.
Born in 1887 at the coastal city of Oulu in Northern Finland, Madetoja
is a younger contemporary and fellow countryman of Jean Sibelius. Clearly
Sibelius’s music totally overshadows that of Madetoja who at one time
studied with the older composer even expressing interest in writing
his biography. Given this association it is no surprise that Madetoja’s
music is sometimes said to inhabit a similar sound-world to that of
Sibelius. In truth I don’t find their likeness too pronounced as Madetoja
went on to developed his own distinctive personal language.
The earliest work on the disc is the Elegy for strings, Op.
4/1. Madetoja was still a student at the Helsinki Music Institute when
the score was introduced by conductor Robert Kajanus in 1910 to considerable
acclaim. It wasn’t long before the composer integrated the Elegy
for strings into his Symphonic Suite, Op. 4. This highly
attractive work, although heartbreakingly tender, doesn’t have the solemn
tread of a funeral dirge. In this highly charged performance Storgårds
directs with a sure pulse that provides significant forward momentum.
Madetoja, like his mentor Sibelius, couldn’t resist the lure of the
epic Finnish poetry of the Kalevala. His response was the symphonic
poem Kullervo from 1913, a musical portrait of the ill-fated
son of Kalervo. Fertile ideas certainly flood from Madetoja’s pen often
using short contrasting blocks of music. Sibelius’s long and flowing
lines are not employed and the music remain rather unmemorable. Conducting
with assurance Storgårds is unfazed by the demands of Madetoja’s challenging
score. He clearly understands the rhythm and thrust of the music.
Madetoja’s brother was killed in the Finnish Civil War. His friend was
killed shortly after. It is not surprising then that Symphony No.
2 reflects the resulting emotional scars. Cast in four movements
this symphony is imposing and contains some impressively dramatic writing.
Opening with a boldly melodic Allegro moderato the music is
only moderately emotional. The summery Andante commencing with
a bucolic oboe solo failed to make much of an impression and rather
outstayed its welcome. More to my taste was the Allegro non troppo
with its squally and strangely disconcerting sound-world. Although the
writing racks up real tension and a palpable sense of anger the movement
ends on a calm note. The final Andantino lasts just under five
minutes here. I was struck how by assuredly Storgårds conveys a sense
of peace and resignation from this gently flowing writing.
Having heard John Storgårds conduct Sibelius on three occasions in Manchester
in his capacity as principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic
he certainly demonstrates a special affinity for Finnish music. These
Madetoja scores are conducted with sharp insight and unfaltering authority.
Under Storgårds’ baton the impeccably prepared Helsinki Philharmonic
exhibit their commitment to the music. The playing glows with expressive
force and a palpable sense of concentration.
The sound engineers have done a splendid job for Ondine reproducing
clear and well balanced sonics. This is a well presented release and
I loved the artwork Auringonlasku (Sunset, 1930) by Finnish
painter Vilho Lampi on the booklet cover.