Classical: From Finland with fear


FRATRICIDE, SEDUCTION, incest and suicide: Kullervo is not a tale for the squeamish. But it fired the creative imagination of the young Jean Sibelius during his studies in l890s Vienna. Repeatedly the composer returned to mine the riches of Elias Lonnrot's poetic reworking of the Kalevala legends which lent confidence to Finland's emerging national consciousness. Sibelius's oeuvre itself became a crucial part of that process.

His Kullervo symphony, first heard in Helsinki in l893, is a giant of a work, just predating Karelia, and early versions of En Saga and the Lemminkainen Legends.Yet it is no sprawling giant, but a rich-textured narrative full of contrast and incident, often almost visual, with a massive 25-minute central section in which men's chorus, soprano and baritone soloists searingly evoke events surrounding the young hero's unwitting deflowering of his own sister, which leads to his self-condemnation and suicide. This grim saga prised from the CBSO and Sakari Oramo, their Finnish principal conductor, one of their most rewarding evenings to date.

Earlier, Oramo's generous beat allowed perhaps just a fraction too much romantic allure to permeate the sparse wastes of the late tone-poem Tapiola: there was a slightly liquid, fuzzy, almost blandly relaxed quality initially to upper strings, brass and even woodwind. Yet the later passages of dark low woodwind and icy string crescendos were meticulously and beautifully focused.

Kullervo never faltered. The CBSO men's chorus was rhythmically firm, enunciated perfectly, and under Simon Halsey's guidance had grasped exactly the right kind of formal delivery for these epic lines. Of the two soloists, Lilli Paasikivi, just occasionally overborne by the orchestra, brought out a pathos in the sister's lament as yearning as Sibelius's Luonnotar; while the pronunciational affinities of Finnish and Magyar lent a curiously Bluebeard-like feel to Kullervo's lament ("Voi, poloinen, paiviani"), strongly articulated by the baritone Heikki Kilpelainen.

Oramo judged well in setting the hall's sound-chamber doors marginally ajar. The orchestra bears the narrative brunt, and here the interplay between conductor and players repeatedly proved itself. Sibelius's introduction, a small masterpiece, produced an apt warmth from the start, with many superb points of detail : the pianissimo horn call which reins everything in, impeccably disciplined short and long bowing and pizzicato from the violins, rapid-spitting oboes, a vital bassoon-flute dialogue over horns. In "Kullervo's Youth" the grieving viola lead-in abutted helter-skelter passages for cellos and basses, while the woodwind, notably clarinets and cor anglais, was exquisitely poised and refined. The ensuing build- up was bracing, the dissolution as emotionally charged as Strauss's Metamorphosen.

Crisp brass and cellos enhanced the penultimate movement, and from the pianissimo launch for strings, horn and men's chorus (magnificent at the close) the finale, "Kullervo's Death", was gripping. As in the initial movement, Oramo judged the hiatus, or dramatic silence, marvellously. Such a sudden cessation itself became a high point.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk