Munich Phil Tries Kullervo

Munich Philharmonic at the Gasteig

Published: May 31, 2013

MUNICH — Young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen waved his arms heartily this week for Kullervo, leading the Munich Philharmonic at the Gasteig concert hall. It wasn’t enough. Sibelius’s impassioned sequence of tone poems (1892) demands wily control of dynamics and balances, and an intermittent spotlight on half-hidden themes. How else to correlate five epically inclined “movements,” two of them vocal, with thin melodic ties and scant symphonic argument?

As performed on May 28, the second and fifth movements (Young Kullervo and Kullervo’s Death) overstayed their welcome, and the 26-year-old composer’s closing apotheosis missed its mark. The painterly start and Brucknerian flashes of the first movement (without programmatic title) did compel attention, helped by eloquent string playing, but the fourth movement’s bucolic refrains, well forward, negated its supposed devotion to war.

Kullervo and His Sister, the central, longest and strongest of the movements — authorized by Sibelius for standalone performance — contrasted the matronly sound of Monica Groop’s mezzo-soprano (sibling and rape victim in this sorry Kalevala tale) with Jukka Rasilainen’s virile, resplendent Heldenbariton. Here and in the last movement, the score needs a substantial men’s chorus, for lines mostly unison. The combined voices of the Philharmonischer Chor München and Helsinki’s 130-year-old Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat fit the bill thrillingly, even if they could not disguise Inkinen’s unpersuasive approach.

Photo © Andrea Huber

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