Performers: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Lund Male Chorus/Thomas Dausgaard
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA68248
Sibelius’s teacher Robert Fuchs described Kullervo – the young composer’s foray into one of the darkest episodes of Finland’s Kalevala – as “barbaric and raw”. There’s certainty plenty of barbarism on show here from Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who carve a boldly coloured and pleasingly rough-hewn path through this uneven early work.
Kullervo tells the story of a young, angry warrior who, having failed to seduce two women, forces himself on a third. When it turns out that she is his sister, she commits suicide and he, after destroying his whole tribe, follows suit. It’s an unremittingly dark story told across five sprawling movements, but one that has all the hallmarks of mature Sibelius to come.
The brass writing – bursting dazzlingly into the ear at the start of the second movement and hubristically joyful at the close of the third – here sit just the right side of brash. If strings lack the oaken depth Vänska draws from Minnesota, they have a folky brightness that’s amplified by the lively, forward recording acoustic.
Dausgaard’s storytelling isn’t subtle, but then neither is Kullervo, and his urgent speeds and dramatic pauses coupled with wonderfully vivid contributions from the Lund Male Chorus, soprano Helena Juntunen and baritone Benjamin Appl make for an exhilarating narrative.