SIBELIUS Tapiola. En Saga, Eight Songs
‘I haven’t seen the ancient forests of Northern Finland but I still think I do a pretty convincing Tapiola’, Hannu Lintu told me for a Gramophone reflection on the Sibelius anniversary two years ago (8/15). Well, after a metropolitan-feeling opening, Lintu’s Tapiola does indeed settle into one of the finest performances on record, reconciling the obvious with the mysterious, casting everything in various shades of darkness until it snaps or roars outwards, and, in the culminating shift to the major, equalling Leif Segerstam’s magical flooding of the soundscape with glistening, sideways forest light.
En saga stands as a partner piece to Tapiola at the other end of Sibelius’s orchestral career, an early but unmistakable sign that the composer was capable of reaching deep into the Finnish nature psyche with wholly original technical and figurative tools. Again, this is a superb performance: rich down below, perky up top, full of delectable solos, with a sense of momentum that has a seismic effect on the musical argument from the string incantations at 6'54" onwards. Lintu invests the work with the sort of downward declamation we are now used to hearing in its contemporaneous Kullervo. The string ensemble at 12'06" is extraordinary and the power and confidence mustered after that delicate hesitance is awesome, not least as it recedes into nothingness.
Next we hear new orchestrations by Aulis Sallinen of eight Sibelius songs to Swedish texts, sung by native Swede Anne Sofie von Otter. There are no blockbusters among the selection but they work beautifully together, from the elusive to the guardedly grand and the mildly enchanted. Von Otter’s voice may have lost some brightness but it has gained storytelling capabilities with age, best demonstrated in ‘Under strandens granar’. Sallinen’s orchestrations only occasionally draw attention to themselves and sometimes Sibelius lurks unobtrusively behind them (notably in Sallinen’s deployment of the timpani). One of the most striking Sibelius discs for years.