SIBELIUS Finlandia; Karelia Suite – Sakari
Most impressive. In its keen intelligence, fiery snap and purposeful thrust, Petri Sakari’s account of the four Legends proves more than a match for the finest. The Iceland SO may not be world-beaters, but they respond to their thoughtful young Finnish maestro’s illuminating direction with clean-limbed zest and commitment to the cause (their winds are an especially personable bunch). Perhaps the highlight of the new set is ‘Lemminkainen in Tuonela’, which, like Segerstam and Salonen before him, Sakari places second (reverting to the composer’s original scheme), and where he distils a relentless concentration and pin-sharp focus (in my experience, only Segerstam is more gripping in this brooding essay). Of course, no one should miss out on the heady opulence of Ormandy’s magnificent Philadelphia strings in those glorious singing lines of ‘Lemminkainen and the maidens of the island’, but the Icelanders play their hearts out and anyway Sakari gives a dramatic reading of bold contrasts and strong symphonic cohesion.
No grumbles, either, about ‘The Swan of Tuonela’, whose unaffected progress and eloquence I like very much, or ‘Lemminkainen’s Homeward Journey’, firmly controlled, dashingly detailed and genuinely exciting (as opposed to merely excitable). After due consideration, I’d now be inclined to place Sakari’s rewarding Legends very near the top of the heap alongside (though, ultimately, not ahead of) Segerstam, Saraste and Ormandy. (Like RL, I have always found Salonen’s super-slick Los Angeles version too uncomfortably self-aware by half.)
In the popular couplings, Sakari’s unhackneyed approach once again pays dividends, though I wasn’t absolutely convinced by his unusually brisk (and to my ears, ever-so-slightly hectic) tempo for the main portion of the Karelia Suite’s opening ‘Intermezzo’. None the less, this really is quite a bargain. Eminently pleasing sound, too: free of gimmickry and tonally very true.'