Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Lemminkäinen, four legends from the Kalevala,
Op. 22; Night ride and sunrise, op. 55. Performed by the Toronto Symphony
Orchestra under the direction of Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Finlandia Records 3984-27890-2)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was Finland's national composer. He was influenced
by late romantic as well as by 20th century classical music. Finland's
national epic, the Kalevala, is a creation myth and about the battles between
the peoples of Kalevala and Pohjola. Jukka-Pekka Saraste is a leading Finnish
conductor who offers us his interpretation of Sibelius' four legends from
the Kalevala, known as the Lemminkäinen Suite, composed in 1896.
Born in 1956 in Heinola, Finland, Jukka-Pekka Saraste studied piano
and violin at the Lahti Conservatory. His teachers encouraged him from
the age of 12 on to pursue a conducting career. In 1978 he joined the Finnish
Radio Symphony Orchestra as a violinist while continuing his conducting
studies. He won the first prize in the Scandinavian Conducting Competition
in 1981 and had his prefessional conducting debut with the Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchestra at the age of 23. Saraste was invited to a North American tour
in 1982 and to China in 1985. He is a co-founder of the Avanti! Chamber
Orchestra, and Saraste helped establish Finland's exponents of contemporary
music. Saraste was the principal conductor of the Edinburgh-based Scottish
Chamber Orchestra (1987–1991). Today he primarily conducts two orchestras:
the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1987 and the Toronto Symphony
Orchestra since 1994.
Founded in 1922 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra adopted their current
name in 1927. Among its conductors were Walter Süsskind, Seiji Ozawa,
Andrew Davis and Gunther Herbig. Together with Jukka-Pekka Saraste, the
orchestra has recorded Mussorgksy's Pictures at an Exhibition, Rachmaninov's
Concerto No. 4 and Bartók's Dance Suite.
In the summer of 1894, Jean Sibelius worked on an opera project and
therefore attended performances of some of Richard Wagner's operas in Bayreuth
and Munich. This experience completely crushed his aspirations as an opera
composer and these never recovered. He abandoned opera and studied instead
the symphonic poems of Liszt. Sibelius found in them a genre more suitable
for himself. In 1896 he transformed the ruins of the opera project into
four legends from the Kalevala. The premiere of the Lemminkäinen
Suite in Helsinki in April 1896 was enthusiastically received by the
public. The leading critic Karl Flodin both criticized and commended it.
Sibelius revised his work. But at its second performance a year and a half
later, Flodin described it as "pathological" and complained that it made
him "depressed, unhappy, raw and apathetic." Sibelius withdrew two movements
of the Suite from public circulation. They were not performed again until
the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Kalevala in 1935 and not
printed until 1954.
The Lemminkäinen Suite "strikes a balance between pure programme
music and a more abstract symphonic idiom. Each of its movements has a
title associated with a specific episode from the Kalevala." In
its first two movements, the work is influenced by Wagner. The Four
Legends also have links with symbolism. Sibelius' music does not follow
the narrative of the national epic in any detail but depicts its subject
"on a more general emotional level."
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jukka-Pekka Saraste
has recorded a valuable version of the Lemminkäinen Suite that
brings the composer's intended emotions to life. Lemminkäinen, the
Don Juan, seduces maidens, kills - like Parsifal - a sacred swan, is consigned
to the land of the dead and saved and brought back to life through the
love of his mother. Besides the Lemminkäinen Suite, the CD
also offers Saraste's version of Sibelius' Night ride and sunrise
(1908), a mythological poem written by the composer himself.