Osmo Vänskä gave us a superb Kullervo in 2001 as part of his lauded cycle with the Lahti Symphony, but this release justifies itself by preserving a programme celebrating Finnish musical identity recorded over several chilly Minnesota nights in February 2016.
Premiered in 1892, the sprawling work was a watershed in Sibelius’ creative development – he effectively invented the Finnish musical idiom overnight – its runic tunes and “wind rustling through the pines” textures would be distilled in the later tone poems and symphonies. The work does have its longueurs – Vänskä is daringly expansive in the second movement (Kullervo’s Youth) yet it somehow works, despite its 19-minute duration. Lilli Paasikivi reprises her role as Kullervo’s sister; she pretty much owns the role, though her widening vibrato is worrying. Tommi Hakala is an excellent Kullervo. Vänskä maintains a fine balance of expansive atmosphere and thrilling bite though I miss the intensity of Berglund’s 1985 Helsinki recording with a blistering Jorma Hynninen at his peak.
Commissioned as a companion piece for similar forces, Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations is a tribute to the Finnish immigration to North America on texts by Sheila Packa, a Minnesotan of Finnish heritage. A fine piece of atmospherics, though I found the orchestral interludes more compelling than the vocal writing. A rousing Finlandia with choral interpolations concludes.