Kullervo may not be the most refined and musically cohesive of Sibelius’ large-scale works, but this enormous five-movement choral symphony, based on an epic Finnish poem, remains a fascinating, embryonic insight into the spiritual and technical seeds of what was become the composer’s signature style. Conductor Thomas Dausgaard chose it as the focus of his final programme this season with the BBC SSO, and in a performance populated also by the Lund Male Choir of Sweden and soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl, and featuring an ultimately inconsequential preamble of linked music by Finnish folk musicians, he captured enough of the music’s heroic impact, stylistic adventurousness and violent emotions to justify his bold decision.
Music review: BBC SSO & Thomas Dausgaard, City Halls, Glasgow ****
There was visceral hot-bloodedness in the largely unison singing of the lusty male voice choir, and two soloists whose character portrayals – the German baritone as Kullervo, the Finnish soprano as his sister – were a magnetic presence. Juntunen especially, singing off score and in thrilling voice, addressed her role with riveting theatrical conviction.
Dausgaard exuded visible enthusiasm, driving his forces forward with incessant energy, at their best in those raw, bracing outbursts that viciously punctuate the score. Brass and wind tuning posed the occasional problem but the burnished spirit shone through.
In the more thoughtful passages, we missed the defined intensity of Sibelian texture and colour, which SSO audiences will recall from this orchestra’s electrifying Osmo Vänskä days. There was an awakening, though, in the stirringly sung Finlandia encore, a mindful consummation of an intriguing evening.