Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
En Saga (1892, 1901)
Lemminkainen Legends (1893-95)
Swedish RSO/Mikko Franck
rec Stockholm, December 1999
ONDINE ODE 953-2 [73.45]
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After the years of dearth during the period from 1950 to the early 1970s the Lemminkainen Legends (and for that matter, Kullervo) have attracted multiple recordings and none of them easily dismissable duds. Thomas Jensen was, for years, the only choice in a version on Decca Ace of Clubs (mono) and then on Decca Eclipse (electronically processed stereo). Pioneering souls might be able to track down the fabled Tauno Hannikainen on a Melodiya mono LP but this is a very rare item. Then came Okko Kamu (DG), Groves (a little regarded EMI LP), Alexander Gibson (Chandos), Järvi (BIS), Jussi Jalas (Decca - intriguingly with the Hungarian State SO - a band poorly regarded by the critics), Horst Stein (Decca), and above all Ormandy's 1978 recording with the Philadelphia (currently unavailable). The Ormandy still sounds fabulous and Ormandy in his final years defies all expectations of decay and lack of concentration. I have not kept up to date with later versions by Paavo Järvi, Andrew Davis, Salonen, Segerstam and others. There is also a well received Arte Nova version.

En Saga is attentively shaped by Mikko Franck and his orchestra is responsive to his approach which caresses in self-absorbed languor (17.50) and rushes in fury in En Saga. Has the clarinet ever attained such a mesmerised dream? My reference recording for En Saga is Horst Stein and his early Decca 1970s recording. The Ondine recording is far less synthetic with effects naturalistically distanced in the Ondine where they were brought forward in the undeniably exciting Decca. I wonder if the Stein team were tempted to use Phase Four techniques - certainly sounds like it.

The Legends display the same guileless virtues. Franck tends to the languid at one extreme and the sprightly in the woodwind and brass. He does not lack for impetuous snap either (try 6.00 in the Homecoming). His use of Brucknerian silences is audacious (e.g. 11.55 in the first Legend) - with long pauses. The recording's lucidity is especially telling in the quieter passages where, for example, the by-play between bass and treble poles is wonderfully contrived at the start of Tuonela. Timings are not everything but comparison is interesting (true these figures are on the basis of trusting the CD covers rather than stopwatch): Franck 53:48; Ormandy: 45.52; Stein 43:02; Järvi 49.24; Sinaisky 48.27. Even allowing for disparities in counting silences Franck delves richly, deeply, steadily and unblushingly into this ripe Sibelian lode.

A very good disc. Most revealing of the Legends and presenting with the confident breadth of a late Bernstein (e.g. Enigma) or Boult (his Elgar violin concerto with Ida Haendel on Testament).

Rob Barnett

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