SIBELIUS: Snöfrid, Op. 29. Our Native Land, Op. 92. Väinö's Song. Sandels, Op. 28. Hymn of the Earth, Op. 95. A Song for Lemminkäinen. Finlandia, Op. 26.
Estonian State Symphony Orchestra and National Chorus/Paavo Järvi, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 45589 (F) (DDD) TT: 62 min.

KLAMI : Intermezzo. Incidental music to the play The Prodigal Son. Symphonie enfantine. KESTI: Fantasia for Orchestra "Spring." KUULA: South Obstrobothnian Folk Songs II.
Jorma Hynninen, baritone; Kymi Sinfonietta/Juha Nikkola, cond.
ALBA ABCD 171 (F) (DDD) TT: 61:06

Nothing on either of these discs from Finland (Klami et al.) and Estonia (Sibelius) is a show-stopper, but there’s passably pleasant background music in Klami’s music, and Sibelius’ formidable mastery of choral writing even in occasional pieces. The only exceptions are Finlandia, which ends with a male choir joining the familiar orchestral setting, and Oma maa (Our Native Land) from 1918, written while he was revising the Fifth Symphony for the third and final time. The Song of Lemminkäinen is too brief to rival his best settings of that rogue’s legends in the Kalevala, although here as elsewhere the composer’s identity is never in doubt.
Certainly everything marks an advance over the symphony-cantata Kullervo, but there is more in the unrecorded (indeed hardly ever played) repertory of choral music by Sibelius than some of the music here. It fills a gap, nonetheless, although I wish Finns themselves had provided the chorus and orchestra. Estonian is the only language related to Finnish in Northern Europe (by way of Hungarian, which also lacks prepositions and connectives), but where it originated remains an etymological mystery. The Estonian recording per se lacks the upfront thrust and substance of recordings from Finland in recent years, and the choristers, while fluent in Finnish, have lighter voices, both in timbre and volume. The National Symphony based in Tallinn is useful rather than characterful, and while Paavo Järvi has a steady hand on the tiller I’d rather hear Osmo Vänskä or one of his countrymen light a fire.

The Klami miscellany on Alba is played by a chamber-sized orchestra shared by the smallish towns of Kouvola and Kotka, which merged their respective “City Orchestras” in 1999 to form the Kymi Sinfonietta of 29 players. The music here, however, suggests that the best of Klami—a conservative who studied in France after WW1—is to be found on a Naxos CD (REVIEW).

Despite the jacket cover, nothing is called “Rhapsodie,” with the Symphonie enfantine (Lapsisinfonia) a misshapen oddity indeed. However, the veteran baritone Jorma Hynninen sings two “Madrigals” and a “Serenade” (from incidental music to a Dalmatian comedy called The Prodigal Son) in a voice darkened by the years but ever-steady and passionately musical. He does similar service for seven ripely Romantic South Ostrobothnian Folk Songs II (orchestrated by Nils-Eric Fougstedt, whom I’ll never forget as one of the two worst conductors ever heard live). These were published for voice and piano in 1909-10 by Toivo Kuula (1883-1918), killed in a hunting accident as he was reaching a prime that promised parity with Sibelius’ celebrity.

The orchestral Spring by Eero Kesti (the Kymi Sinfonietta’s principal violist) has no characteristics one can recall even minutes after hearing it—purely a parochial inclusion. To the credit of Virgin and Alba both, texts and translations of all vocal and choral music on these two CDs are included.

R.D. (August 2003)