- Kullervo, symphonic poem for vocal soloists, male chorus & orchestra, Op. 7
After its premiere in 1892, Sibelius banned further performances of "Kullervo," his symphonic poem in five movements for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, and although he lived another 65 years, the Finnish composer never withdrew his ban. After his death in 1957, however, "Kullervo" was performed and recorded enough times so that by the time this performance with Ari Rasilainen leading the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz was made in 2005, there had been more than a dozen recordings released of the once-banned work. And after listening to this recording plus the more than a dozen previously released recordings, it has to be admitted that Sibelius made the right decision. This doesn't mean that the "Kullervo" shouldn't be heard -- but heard only by hardcore fans of the composer and even then perhaps no more than once or twice a decade. Because as Rasilainen and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz demonstrate, there just isn't that much in Sibelius' "Kullervo" that benefits from repeated listening. There are passages that sound like other composers, passages that show paths the composer might have taken but didn't, and passages that sound like the mature composer -- and then there are the pages and pages of two-note fanfares, three-note melodies, and endlessly reiterated rhythmic figures that betray a young composer who has no idea where he's going and less idea of how to get there. Of course, there are better and worse recordings of "Kullervo" -- and while this recording is by no means one of the worst, it is likewise hardly one of the best. The playing of the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz is professional enough but wholly unidiomatic, the singing of the Kauppakorkeakoulun Ylioppilaskunnan Naislaulajat male choir is wholly idiomatic but not especially persuasive, and the conducting of Rasilainen is clearly committed but not particularly convincing. For a better "Kullervo," try one of the performances by Paavo Berglund or recordings by Osmo Vänskä or Colin Davis. But don't try them too often -- "Kullervo" can only stand so much attention. CPO's super audio multichannel recording is big, brawny, and very loud.