Music Web International: outstanding; Fanfare: The Want List; Penguin Guide 3 stars.
Robert Kajanus (1856-1933) is a name that is unfamiliar to most of us yet a household word to anyone seriously interested in Sibelius’s music. Like all Finnish musicians prior to Sibelius – and most since – Kajanus was so overshadowed by the great symphonic master that his own music entirely disappeared from the concert platform. Yet while Sibelius was still a young man Kajanus was considered the leading Finnish composer of the day. Hitherto, his role in the history of music has been as the champion and – to a degree – the inspiration of Sibelius. For example, he conducted some of the first recordings of Sibelius’s music with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Robert Kajanus was born in Helsinki in 1856 and, like almost all serious Scandinavian musicians of the day, he spent some of his formative years in Leipzig. Perhaps his biggest contribution to emergent Finnish music lay in his founding the Helsinki Orchestra Society. Under Kajanus’s baton the orchestra reached a high level of proficiency. It is claimed that Sibelius was inspired to write his Kullervo Symphony by hearing a performance of Kajanus’s symphonic poem (with final chorus) Aino which is one of the works featured on this disc.
Kajanus and Sibelius were the two leading musical figures in Finland over a long period. Thus it is natural that we at BIS should interest ourselves in the music of Kajanus. As a conductor he was responsible for introducing the likes of Stravinsky, Ravel, Franck and Hindemith to a Finnish audience. But such influences are not evident in his own music. Robert Kajanus is a full-blooded romantic – an aspect to which the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and their eminent conductor Osmo Vänskä respond with the greatest panache.