James A. Altena
, November 2010
By the magic of an outer cardboard wrapping, this set combines in a budget issue two previous Soile Isokoski CDs: ODE 963-2 (the Finnish songs) and ODE 982-2 (the Strauss Lieder). Marc Mandel previously reviewed the Strauss CD in considerable detail in Fanfare 26:2 (saving me much trouble) and gave it a glowing recommendation, putting it on his Want List for that year. I am in absolute agreement with him regarding Isokoski’s flawless singing and deeply felt interpretation, but am less enamored with Janowski’s conducting; to my ears he plows through the music superficially, scanting some of the instrumental detail and failing to shape phrases sufficiently. But then, I admittedly am deeply wedded to the slowest performance of this work on disc, the Jessye Norman/Kurt Masur/Leipzig Gewandhaus recording on Philips. Janowski’s overall timing is on a par with many other versions (though his “Frühling” at 2:59 may be the fastest of all time), so it may be a matter of what I am used to; but for me this autumnal, ruminative music needs time and space to unfold and breathe in order to be fully savored, and Janowski does not provide that. My opinion of the other songs on the disc is the same. Another problem is the recorded sound; Isokoski is placed forward, while the orchestra is distantly recessed in an overly resonant and rather muddy acoustic. Still, Strauss singing doesn’t get any better than with Isokoski, so I’m not about to relinquish this disc.
Isokoski has recorded two other CDs of Finnish songs and hymns, reviewed by Henry Fogel in 27:6 and William Zagorski in 29:5. Both gave high praise to those discs, and this is of a piece with them. The contents include 28 songs: three by Erkki Melartin (1875–1937), one by Ahti Sonninen (1914–84), three by Ilmari Hannikainen (1892–1955), one by Väinö Hannikainen (1900–60), three by Heino Kaski (1885–1957), two by Fredrik Pacius (1809–91), four by Yrjö Kilpinen (1892–1959), eleven by Oskar Merikanto (1868–1924), and one by Kalervo Hämäläinen (b. 1917). This is simple, open-hearted, thoroughly pleasurable music, and Isokoski sings it with heartfelt commitment, ably seconded by her accompanist. The sound here is also somewhat reverberant, but that does not present the problem noted in the companion disc. Both CDs have dual-language texts. At the price, despite my reservations about Janowski, this issue can be warmly recommended to any lover of the Romantic song repertoire.