Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds LEEVI MADETOJA Symphony No. 2 - Kullervo - Elegy

If Sibelius remains the pre-eminent Finnish symphonist, the benchmark indeed for all would-be 20th- and 21st-century symphonists, later compatriots – Kokkonen, Sallinen, Rautavaara, Aho – made the genre their own. Even before them, so did Leevi Madetoja (1881-1947), who composed his first two between the first and final versions of Sibelius’s Fifth. In E flat major, No 2 closes in a modal-sounding E minor, a telling expressive stroke in a work inspired by the terrible events of the Finnish Civil War (in which the composer’s brother was killed). The influence of early Sibelius is discernible throughout alongside traces of the 19th-century Russian symphonists. Storgårds’s view of the work is broadly similar to Petri Sakari’s although often fleeter in tempo, especially in the Andante, and is more vividly recorded.
Had Sibelius not composed his Kullervo, Madetoja’s symphonic poem would be better known. As it is, Sibelius’s shadow lies heavily on its notes as well as its reputation! Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic play it for all its worth, nevertheless. The earliest music here is the ‘Elegy’, the wistful opening span of the Symphonic Suite (1912), and one which strays close to Valse triste territory. The Helsinki players deliver it with feeling, though following the symphony here it feels very much like an afterthought. If you’re new to Madetoja this is a good place to start; if you already possess the alternative versions below (the Chandos including all three symphonies and Alba’s being part of a complete orchestral survey) these are still worth investigating. (Gramphone)

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