Sibelius Orchestral Works

Author: 
Robert Layton
Sibelius Orchestral WorksSibelius Orchestral Works

SIBELIUS Legends; Tapiola – Segerstam

  • Legends, 'Lemminkäinen Suite'
  • Tapiola

At the risk of repeating myself, the four Legends (variously known as the Lemminkainen Suite and the Lemminkainen Legends), first began to surface in Sibelius’s mind in 1893, at the same time as he was working on his Kalevala opera, The Building of the Boat, the prelude to which became “The swan of Tuonela”. (It is not the only thing from the opera that found its way into the Legends. The lovely A minor idea for muted strings in the middle section of “Lemminkainen in Tuonela” is also among the sketches, where Sibelius scribbled over it the words, “the Maiden of Death”. In the opera she would have rowed Vainamoinen across the river to Tuonela. In the tone-poem she symbolizes the very opposite, the loving mother whose ministrations return Lemminkainen to life.)
The first complete recording of the four Legends did not reach the gramophone until the advent of LP, when Thomas Jensen and Sixten Ehrling recorded them more than 20 years after the first symphonies reached disc. The present Gramophone Classical Catalogue lists eight complete versions. Having been rather or very critical of many of Leif Segerstam’s Chandos recordings of the symphonies and tone-poems, it is a pleasure to be able to respond more sympathetically to this new disc. In 1954 Sibelius reversed the order of the inner movements so that “The swan” preceded “Lemminkainen in Tuonela”. Perversely Segerstam, like Salonen, disregards the composer’s wishes and places them in the old order. To be fair, there is a case for this order in that you otherwise have two highly dramatic pieces (“Lemminkainen in Tuonela” and “Lemminkainen’s Homeward Journey”) placed alongside each other, and in any event we can readily forgive him this liberty since most CD players enable the listener to play them as Sibelius proscribed.
The last version I reviewed was by Esa-Pekka Salonen in which the emphasis was more on the young maestro than the old master: I found it dashing but flashy. This newcomer is greatly to be preferred. Leif Segerstam gets very good results from the Helsinki orchestra who respond with a keen enthusiasm that is inspiriting. The performance is free from the excessive mannerisms that have disfigured some of his Sibelius with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and I listened with pleasure throughout. Segerstam’s account of Tapiola is among the most impressive we have had since Karajan. He evokes the chilling terrors and the awesome majesty of the Nordic forest to telling effect. Although I would not prefer the four Legends to the Ormandy set on EMI, I would choose it in preference to the others listed above. Recommended.'

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