This is a heart-warming release all around. It's great to see the Minnesota Orchestra back in business and as good as they were before their recent labour difficulties. Osmo Vanska has his players delivering what must be pretty darn close to the perfect Sibelius sound I imagine is in the head of every Finnish conductor, helped along by the special appearance of the superb YL Male Voice Choir from Helsinki. We also have soloists whose voices are well-suited for this work: mezzo Lilli Paasikivi and baritone Tommi Hakala. This is authenticity in action.
It's heart-warming as well to listen to this stirring music in the middle of a long cold winter; even in normally sunny and mild Victoria BC we've been hit hard by cold and snow, snow, and more snow. This calls for the heroes of the sagas to bring out their horns and do their mighty deeds, as seen in the painting on the front cover of the disc by Axel Gallén (his Kullervo Goes to War from 1901), and for the listeners to thrill to the exciting tale told by Sibelius. The composer provides memorable melodies, martial rhythms and plenty of drama, which Vanska calibrates carefully to avoid sentimentality or bombast. There's an electricity in the air throughout in this recording, made during three public concerts during February 2016. It comes to a head with a spectacular recording of everyone's favourite national hymn, Finlandia.
In between, though, is another work, by the Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas, which takes advantage of the forces assembled for the Sibelius. Migrations is based on poetry by the Minnesotan (of Finnish descent) Sheila Packa, which takes as its theme something that's relevant to the history of Finland and Minnesota, and to the sad stories of todays migrants.
in a cascade of notesPoems by Sheila Packa, from the books ‘Cloud Birds’ and ‘Echo & Lightning’ published by Wildwood River Press.
which is not endless
but aching and sweet
like iridescent feathers
of wings that rise and fall
in the circle of migration
in each flight
music that we breathe
This BIS release is something special; I expect it'll end up in my 2017 Top 10 list for sure.