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Thread: Blind Comparison - Luonnotar

  1. #1
    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Default Blind Comparison - Luonnotar

    For your edification and enlightenment, another in the occasional series of blind comparison threads, this time a bit different, i.e. vocal piece, Sibelius' Luonnotar. Below are links to 5 performances of this ~10 minute piece where the idea is to listen and comment without being immediately influenced by knowing the performers. As always, if you recognize one of the performances, please don't identify it in the thread, however feel free to PM me if you wish to discuss them or want to know the answers. I will post the details by the end of the weekend.

    A - https://my.pcloud.com/publink/show?c...XMtFHS1fnlFBx7
    B - https://my.pcloud.com/publink/show?c...0lsOePBBxMcQu7
    C - https://my.pcloud.com/publink/show?c...uViRrkXHFxfOSX
    D - https://my.pcloud.com/publink/show?c...chuV5NAyhfM8Yy
    E - https://my.pcloud.com/publink/show?c...3luBUuQzGPhMUV

    Have fun!

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Enjoy this one folks. Unfortunately Luonnotar has never been a piece I personally enjoy (it usually gets skipped) , so I'm out of this one but still a good choice, Becca. I know plenty of people do like it (it was a big favourite of Lenny's).

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    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    "The piece takes only about 10 minutes, but has been avoided by many singers because of its formidable challenges. It has a very high tessitura as well as a very wide range: the vocal range required of the soprano is from B just below middle C to C flat two octaves higher. There are leaps and drops of almost an octave, sometimes within a single word. The work is often described in terms such as "fiendishly difficult to perform", "the cruel demands made of the soloist" and "the cruelly taxing nature of the solo part".

    Luonnotar is based on Finnish mythology, the words coming from the Kalevala. The text is from the first part of the Kalevala and deals with the creation of the world. Luonnotar or Ilmatar is the Spirit of Nature and Mother of the Seas.

    Review of B.) - Superb deeply evocative rendition - exquisite almost ethereal vocalization - there is an elegant and nearly effortless gracefulness to this version which exhibits a unison of voice and orchestra perfectly and harmoniously balanced with one another - the soprano evidences flawless technique with an almost stratospheric range and controlled command of her instrument coupled with the awe-inspiring agility of a lyric coloratura and the vocal acrobatics of a musical athlete. An exemplary performance which channels the composer's intent of expressing both the Spirit of Nature and the Mother of the Seas with a slight edge perhaps to the Spirit of Nature...

    Other reviews of A, C, D, and E will follow as time permits but E.) is an exceptionally strong performance as well with a deeper darker vocal colouring and wider palette of expressiveness that may more effectively convey the conceptualized vocalization of the Mother of the Seas.
    Last edited by Mollie John; Nov-16-2019 at 02:22.

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    Senior Member Kiki's Avatar
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    A
    Epic and virtuosic. However, the full power output from start to finish makes it sound monotonous and annoying.
    B
    Lyrical. The variation in dynamics and expressions is refreshing after listening to A.
    C
    A distinctive voice. Great storytelling. There is a bit of vulnerability that fits the story line very well.
    D
    Captivating storytelling again with a more powerful voice.
    E
    Lyrical and emotionally engaging.

    I like B through E, but definitely don't like A.

    E,B,C,D >>> A

    I like the subtlety of a more lyrical voice, as in B & E, which gives the storytelling more depth and more space for imagination. On the other hand, C & D have great storytelling but feel perhaps less intimate. I don't want to listen to A again.

    Have to confess I find Sibelius' Luonnotar strange. Why is the duck's lament so emotionally enthralling and is the only climax of the piece? Why does the narrative towards the end of how the world is created sound like a monotonous elegy until the last few notes where the music suddenly takes an upbeat and then dies away?

    While I love most of Sibelius' works, I can't say I'm able to appreciate his Luonnotar.

    I think I have E... B to D are good, but this is not a piece that I feel eager to collect more recordings of.
    Last edited by Kiki; Nov-16-2019 at 12:50.

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    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    E.) -

    Seamless interplay between vocalist as "musician" and conductor as "director" - exceptional control of orchestra - performance is strongly suggestive of composer's intent in regards to theme - majestic grandeur of sound accompanied by a sense of the dynamic contrast of certainty/uncertainty of intent which is indicative of the act of creation -clear separation of orchestral sections - evocative brass - wonderfully recorded and engineered - vocalist darker deeper with a wider palette of dramatic expressiveness which conveys a significant emotional depth but there is be a slight lack in the effortless agility of the vocal acrobatics evidenced by performance B.) - lovely crystal clear soprano - clearly articulated lyrics with some smoothing off of the edges of the accent...

    This is a performance well worth hearing and I found this composition to be be a significant and substantial addition to the vocal canon and would strongly recommend it without reservations.

    These are the kinds of compositions that make the exploration of classical music so rewarding.

    Luonnotar is a work which deserves to be heard.

    - for bringing it to our attention...
    Last edited by Mollie John; Nov-16-2019 at 16:13.

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    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    A.) -

    Exceptional vocalist with a straightforward clearly articulated performance - deeper and darker vocal colouring than selections B.) and E.) however it lacks the dynamism - the transcendence - found on either of the two - recording is most likely analog without digital remastering - orchestra buried far within the mix with little to no separation of orchestral elements - sound quality itself prevents a fair critique of the conducting - despite only cursory listens to selections C.) and D.) I would have to place A.) fifth in line of precedence - definitely worth hearing at least once as there is something unique in each interpretation but any of the previous four would merit a second listen before this one...
    Last edited by Mollie John; Nov-16-2019 at 14:53.

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    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    C.)

    Superb deeply evocative rendition - Brilliant, absolutely brilliant interpretation of performance and recording - superb enunciation and rock-solid accent by vocalist - this particular soprano captures the very essence of the composer's intent - she personifies the Spirit of Nature and Mother of the Seas concept - stunning vocal range with the widest palette of colouring of the five selections - seemingly effortless vocal acrobatics - as with selection B.) the soprano evidences flawless technique with an almost stratospheric range and controlled command of her instrument coupled with the awe-inspiring agility of a lyric coloratura and the vocal acrobatics of a musical athlete - a sister performance to that evidenced in selection B.) with with a more pronounced emotional depth and a markedly deeper and darker sound... The conductor and orchestra work as one with the vocalist and the recording and engineering are first-rate - this is a reference level recording.

    Performance C.) as of this moment would be 1.A to performance B.'s 1.B - each positional standing could be switched with the other without argument.

    Preliminary ranking (with selection D to be reviewed fully later... Selections B and C tied for first with selection E having an unquestioned lock on third place over D (after a brief sample) and a better than fair chance of supplanting B for second place depending on mood, circumstances, and time of day...

    1) C
    1) B
    2) E
    3) D
    4) A


    - Duncan
    Last edited by Mollie John; Nov-16-2019 at 16:31.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Almost all the comments so far have been about the soloist but there is more to the work than that. Any comments on the orchestral part?

    Oops, I hadn't seen MJ's last post when I posted this!
    Last edited by Becca; Nov-16-2019 at 16:12.

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    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    D.)

    This is an example of craftsmanship that fails to rise to the level of true artistry. The vocalist, conductor, and orchestra while technically proficient are unable to transcend and thus elevate a rather straightforward reading of the composition which results in a somewhat less than inspired performance. The vocalist obviously has the pipes to proficiently sing the role but her range while admirable in a vertical sense of range and dynamics is offset by a significantly narrow breadth of range and emotional colour palette. The enunciation is rather soft and the notes thus glide within one another without a true sense of differentiation however the accent is spot on but inconsistent - stronger and more pronounced at the beginning with an audible fade as the composition progresses.
    The recording and engineering are such that the orchestral sections are blended rather than distinct and thus the brass and woodwinds are heard under the voice rather than along side of it leading to an unbalanced aural sense. This recording can just as easily be slotted in fifth place as fourth however it is marginally better produced than selection A.) and thus will be ranked as intended in the number 4 position.

    Final ranking in order of preference -

    1) C
    1) B
    2) E
    3) D
    4) A


    - Duncan


    Once again, my compliments on an inspired selection that deserves to be heard by one and all.


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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    A - Gwyneth Jones / Antal Dorati / London Symphony
    B - Ute Selbig / Colin Davis / Staatskapelle Dresden
    C - Barbara Hannigan conductor and soloist / Gothenburg Symphony
    D - Karita Mattila / Hannu Lintu / Finnish Radio Symphony
    E - Phyllis Bryn-Julson / Alexander Gibson / Royal Scottish National

    B, C & D are all from concert performances with B also being on a commercial CD from Profil.
    D from YouTube
    C from a very recent performance on GSO's website 'gsoplay.se'
    Last edited by Becca; Nov-18-2019 at 02:06.

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  19. #11
    Senior Member Mollie John's Avatar
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    Having been given the green light...

    Final ranking in order of preference -

    and my choices (lucky guesses if right on two of them) of soloists and conductors...


    1) C - Barbara Hannigan / Gothenburg Symphony
    2) B - Ute Selbig / Sir Colin Davis / Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
    3) E - Phyllis Bryn-Julson / Sir Alexander Gibson / Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    4) D - Karita Mattila / Hannu Lintu / Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    5) A - Gwyneth Jones / Antal Dorati / London Symphony Orchestra


    - Duncan


    I'm fairly certain that I nailed selections B, C, and E with not too much difficulty - (two listens each)

    Selections A and D required a third (A) and fourth (D) listen before arriving at five choices that I felt were worth staking my reputation as "Radio Jesus" on...

    Selection A if my choice is wrong would most likely be Phyllis Curtin /New York Philharmonic / Leonard Bernstein

    Selection D if my choice is wrong would most likely be Elisabeth Söderström /Philharmonia Orchestra/ Vladimir Ashkenazy.
    Last edited by Mollie John; Nov-17-2019 at 21:23.

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  21. #12
    Senior Member Kiki's Avatar
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    I recognised E upon first hearing. A memorable voice. Didn't recognised B but actually I have this live recording.

    Think the great Gwyneth Jones was a miscast. I certainly didn't like A. Too powerful.

    Certainly didn't recognise the ever resourceful Barbara Hannigan. In fact the way C was sung reminded me of how Barbara Hendricks would have moulded the words, but the timbre didn't match...

    Nice comparison exercise, Becca! Thanks for organising this.

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