The premise is an interesting one. Such was Sibelius’s stature and influence that his reputation has not just eclipsed but entirely erased an entire generation of late 19th and early 20th-century Finnish composers, whose music neglected to follow the fashionable new trend of nationalism. With Spring Will Come, conductor Nils Schweckendiek and the Helsinki Chamber Choir redress the balance, showcasing a generous handful of the composer’s contemporaries.
I’d love to say that the result is a series of musical revelations, distinctive voices and neglected treasures, but it’s just not. What we do get here (though whether it is worth having very much depends on individual taste) is a broad-brushstrokes portrait of an era and its musical fashions. Nearly 30 choral miniatures, most lasting scarcely more than a minute, whip past at pace, and while a couple do stand out, the overall impression is blurry and rather generalised.
The Finnish originals are the standouts (try Oskar Merikanto’s stirring Itatuulessa or Armas Järnefelt’s cleverly conceived Armahan Kulku, in which male and female soloists double one another like a lover who follows in his beloved’s footsteps), distinguished by a muscular sobriety that is lacking from the rest. The performances by the Helsinki Chamber Choir are precise and energised, but the tone lacks something of the soft-edged blend of English rivals like Tenebrae or The Sixteen. Fragrant and tooth-achingly sweet, this recital feels a lot like gorging yourself on a box of rose and violet creams. What’s the Finnish for “I’ve had enough”?
Composer: Melartin, Collan, Borenius, Moring, Crusell et al
Composition: 19th-century Finnish partsongs
Performer: Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2442