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Sibelius: En Saga / Lemminkäinen Legends - Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Mikko Franck

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 25, 2000
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Editorial Reviews


Ondine's booklet tells us that the young Finnish conductor Mikko Franck (a graduate of Helsinki's Sibelius Academy and still just in his early 20s) has already been creating quite a stir in Scandinavia--no wonder, if this incredibly promising debut CD is anything to go by. En Saga immediately proclaims a vital and intelligent personality on the podium. Textures are imaginatively sifted, phrases thoughtfully shaped, and there's a strong sense of slumbering, bardic atmosphere--in the dusky coda, the clarinet's unforgettably poignant song resonates with an elemental mystery as old as time itself. The Lemminkäinen Legends are even more distinctive, nowhere more so than in the opening "Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari," which Franck surveys in extraordinarily individual fashion (the love music now glows with a voluptuous, positively Wagnerian ardor). "The Swan of Tuonela" glides across the water with a somber, lofty majesty, while the strings' dusky tremolandi in "Lemminkäinen in Tuonela" really do chill to the marrow. Even in "Lemminkäinen's Return," Franck artfully avoids any hint of excitable bluster. While not displacing Segerstam's masterly and characterful Legends (also on Ondine) at the top of the pile, Franck's intensely stimulating interpretation certainly demands to be experienced. --Andrew Achenbach

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. En Saga, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 9

Product Details

  • Audio CD (July 25, 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Ondine
  • ASIN: B00004T00Y
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,586 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Once, when much younger, I performed a little experiment while listening to the First Symphony of Jean Sibelius. I simply turned the lights out and listened to it in total darkness. The experience was a revelation; simply put, I was transported to an imaginary world in which my heightened senses could easily conjure up the far-North vistas that Sibelius' music captures.

In the years since that experiment, I have repeated it many times over, both with the music of Sibelius and with the music of a wide range of other composers. For reasons that I am totally incapable of explaining, the effect has always worked best for Sibelius. (This is almost to the total exclusion of other composers, quite a few of whom I otherwise rank at least as high as Sibelius in terms of more conventional music values.) So I quite simply accepted the fact that there is something special in the ability of Sibelius as a shamanic conjuror, whether that was his intent or not. Certainly, others can listen to his works as "absolute" music and not share this odd conclusion of mine.

Of all the music written by him, the tone poems are certainly at the top of this "lights out" experience. While I will not attempt to list and rank every one of them in terms of this eerie phenomenon, certain ones - "Pojola's Daughter," "Tapiola," "Nightride and Sunrise," the "Lemminkäinen Legends" - would be included. And "En Saga." Definitely, always, and first at the top, "En Saga." This led, over time, to a collecting frenzy, to see if it were possible to pick a performance which outdid all the others in terms of this effect. For quite a length of time, my personal "best of breed" had been the Ashkenazy performance on Decca, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, coupled with the 5th Symphony.
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Format: Audio CD
I must disagree...this recording DOES displace Segerstam's! It's almost impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of this album. Mikko Franck has perfectly captured the essence of Sibelius and the dark, frozen land of which he wrote. The SRSO plays immaculately, and the strings in particular are simply electrifying. The opening of "Lemminkainen in Tuonela" will make your hairs stand on end! "The Swan of Tuonela," the most famous of the legends, is also rapturously played, heartbreaking in its sad loveliness. This cd is a must for any fan of Sibelius. It is absolutely stunning!
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This 2000 CD from the Ondine label headlines young conductor Mikko Franck in a group of symphonic poems, covering some of Jan Sibelius' finest music. The highlight is maybe the best performance of "The Swan of Tuonela" I have had the pleasure of hearing. Franck and the Swedish Radio Orchestra manage the delicate tonal transitions between strings and solo woodwinds just beautifully, creating a very delicate tonal palette. Franck also accents the very low frequencies (percussion, lower strings), creating a sort of subterranean dimension to the orchestration. Finally, the pacing of the "Swan" is natural and unhurried without languishing. Just an exquisite job.

Most of the remaining tracks are promising without being quite so remarkable. I compared "En Saga", which opens this disc, to my reference version, Colin Davis' vivid interpretation done with the London Symphony on RCA. Franck doesn't equal Davis' amazing combination of exciting pacing, delicate blending of instruments and a visionary conclusion, but he does provide a solid and successful interpretation, although the dream-like ending does drag a bit. The final two tableaux from "Lemminkainen" also are done well, although the versions aren't as fine as the two outstanding recordings of the Four Legends I have, the still excellent Eugene Ormandy recording and a very original and individual recent version by Leif Segerstam (also on Ondine).

The one track that I found unsatisfactory is the extensive opening Legend, "The Maidens of Saari", where Franck and the Swedish Radio Symphony show insufficient finesse in the wind playing. Instead of swelling dynamics -a gradual increase in volume -- the winds often simply enter. This is not the way to play this Legend.
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