Lemminkainen Suite, Wood Nymph/Sibelius
July 11, 2014
BIS 1745 SACD
While Sibelius (1865-1957) lived into the mid 20th century much of his output of composition was done in the late 19th century and early 20th century and the style of his music is reflected in that. His music is quite melodic and I could compare him to composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvorak, and Liszt. In fact he said “Liszt view of music is the one to which I’m closest.” “Musically speaking I am a tone painter and poet.” The Lemminkainen Suite was inspired from the Kalevala, a poem published in 1835 that impacted the Finnish society. Material for the four part suite came from an opera project Veneen luominen that was abandoned. The first movement “Lemminkainen and the Maiden of the Island” sets the mood for the entire work. It begins with a horn calling out and a very slow crescendo builds to a climax. The texture is rich, the orchestration sound, and Vanska’s conducting of the Lahti symphony leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind how well they know this piece. The “Swan of Tuonela” is often performed as a separate piece. The nine minute length seems perfect for a variety of different programs performed. The beautiful melody from the cor anglais is a favorite among symphony goers. This upon closer examination is really a dark work full of desolation and melancholy but the haunting sound of the cor anglais is the perfect instrument to bring across what Sibelius is trying to depict in his tone and color. The third movement “Lemminkainen in Tuonela” is strikingly rich in contrast and style as this depicts a creepiness with low strings which build in intensity as the horns sound followed by the strings giving us another dose of a creepy feeling before a crescendo. Listen for his effective use of the bass drum in key spots as its thunderous sound enhances greatly the orchestration. “Lemminkainen’s Return,” the final movement, reminds me of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. This movement is filled with energy and provides a rousing conclusion to this very fine work that could have easily been called a symphony. While the true Sibelian is most familiar with this work I think that is something somewhat under the radar and should be explored.
For this reviewer The Wood Nymph listening was a first and like the previous work I was impressed with what I heard. I agree with the liner note writer Barnett that this work was influenced by Wagner. The opening prelude with the horns is more than enough evidence. It was written and performed a year before but then it wasn’t until 2006 that it was performed again by this same orchestra and conductor who did this recording. In terms of tone poems I would rank this work in the middle of the pack. I couldn’t walk away from this work with any sort of melody that I would remember. But there was a feeling of captivation as far as the arrangement and orchestration was concerned so in conclusion I’m certainly glad that I have this as part of my collection and I think you’ll feel the same away.
If you have the capacity to be able to listen to an SACD recording then this is a no brainer as far as a purchase is concerned. The same can be said if you don’t own these early works of Sibelius in your collection.
Lemminkainen Suite, Op. 22 (47:06)
1. Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island. (14:59) Allegro
2. The Swan of Tuonela (9:10) Andante
3. Lemminkainen in Tuonela (16:07) Largo
4. Lemminkainen’s Return (6:24) Allegro
5. The Wood Nymph, Op. 15 (21:37)