It's a story told with waspish wit, and the piquancy and subtlety of Sallinen's score make [an] impression on this fine studio recording...
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 4/21/2006
The music, some of Sallinen's strongest, still stands up extremely well. The composer has a witty way of evoking the ceremonial moments in a sort of modern pomp and circumstance. The black comedy is rooted in the score, and there is sweep and pace - in short, the opera shows Sallinen's innate theatricality.
John Allison, BBC Music Magazine, 6/1/2006
The King Goes Forth to France was Sallinen’s third opera and is regarded by many commentators as the composer’s most problematic. I disagree: it is the best and most profound, and its impact on Sallinen’s subsequent music is incalculable. Subtitled a ‘Chronicle for the Music Theatre of the Coming Ice Age’, The King Goes Forth is a bitingly satirical musical allegory. Sallinen has referred to it as a ‘fairy-tale for adults’ and there are undoubtedly fantastical elements in the storyline, which blends the past, present and one possible future into a dark yet vivid vision on the corruptibility of absolute power.
Those familiar with Sallinen’s Fourth Symphony, Fifth Quartet or, especially, the orchestral prelude Shadows will recognise several strands in the music. Brilliantly scored, the orchestral contribution is crucial, underpinning the foreground action – often with emotional correctives, such as the chirpy march that accompanies the flaying of the Archer – and the word-setting and dramaturgy have the effectiveness of Britten or Henze.
Guy Rickards, The Gramophone, 7/1/2006
The third of Aulis Sallinen’s six operas, The King Goes Forth to France is also the most consciously international in its outlook. A joint commission between the Savonlinna Opera Festival (where it was premiered in 1984), the BBC and Covent Garden (where it was staged in 1987, in a production by Nicholas Hynter, no less), the story is a contemporary fantasy inspired by Froissart’s version of the Hundred Years’ War but set in an England threatened by a new ice age. It has been aptly described as ‘a fairy tale for grown-ups’, and has lost nothing of its resonance: the protagonist starts out as an idealist and ends up as a power-crazed, war-mongering tyrant.
Yet the English setting is almost incidental: The King is a universal allegory, albeit enigmatic in a peculiarly Finnish way, with an elusive libretto by Paavo Kaavikko, who also supplied Sallinen with the text of his first opera, The Horseman. Reviewing the Savonlinna premiere, Rodney Milnes summed it up as ‘a black Magic Flute’, noting that the work’s trajectory is from half-light the pitch darkness. In comparison with the epic Horseman and the red-blooded Red Line, this opera is notable for its lightness of texture, and the music, some of Sallinen’s strongest, stands up extremely well – and how many operas can be judged in those terms after two decades? The composer has a witty way of evoking the ceremonial moments in a sort of modern pomp and circumstance, and a wild arrangement of a Schubert Marche militaire is put to dark dramatic use as the crossbowmen march. Indeed, the black comedy is rooted in the score, and there is sweep and pace – in short, the opera shows Sallinen’s innate theatricality.
John Allison, Opera, 6/1/2006
There's no way not to keep your emotional distance from this work; the music is too artful and the plot too absurd, and the fact that there is a narrator who speaks directly to us makes certain that we always know how "stagey" the occurrences are.
Sallinen is a colorful composer, working within tonal boundaries and using the orchestra for masterly flavoring and description. It can bite like Shostakovich when it has to, but the vocal lines are more accented and lyrical--not unlike Janácek with a hint of Britten. There's snappy use of percussion--wood blocks, snare drum, etc.--to remind us of the awkwardness of the characters and their military pretensions, and the bass clarinet, at once sinister and funny-sounding in this context, pops out of the orchestral fiber often. When The Caroline with the Thick Mane (the others are called The Nice Caroline, The Anne Who Strips, and The Anne who Steals), who is crazy, imagines her wedding day, bells in the background, slightly off, tell us what's happening. Brass fanfares are frequent enough to mean nothing; again, the irony. Action is swift; the opera clocks in at just a little more than two hours.
To single out individual performances would be to defeat the opera, which works like a well-oiled, surreal machine; there are no weak links. Of course Tommi Hakala's King and Jyrki Korhonen's Prime Minister are standouts by the sheer amount of music they have to sing and the straight faces they must present, but the four women are equally fine. Okko Kamu leads the Helsinki Philharmonic with clarity and a serious smile. Sallinen's tangy music and apparently sly wit make this a fascinating show, and following the work with the libretto reaps many rewards. A vibrant, unique work.
Robert Levine, classicstoday.com, 6/1/2006
There’s no way to keep one’s emotional distance from this work; the music is too artful and the plot too absurd, and the fact that there is a narrator who speaks directly to us makes certain that we always know how ‘stagey’ the occurrences are.
Sallinen is a colourful composer, working within tonal boundaries and using the orchestra for masterly flavouring and description. It can bite like Shostakovich when it has to, but his vocal lines are more accented and lyrical – not unlike Janácek with a hint of Britten. There’s snappy use of percussion – wooden blocks, snare drum, etc. – to remind us of the awkwardness of the characters and their military pretensions, and the bass clarinet, at once sinister and funny-sounding in this context, pops out of the orchestral fibre often.
Sallinen’s tangy music and apparently sly wit make this a fascinating show, and following the work with the libretto reaps many rewards. A vibrant, unique work.
Robert Levine, International Record Review, 6/1/2006
The King Goes Forth to France, to a libretto by Paavo Haavikko, surprised us all: the music is certainly toughly argued, but this wasn’t what we were expecting at all – this was grandiose black humour, whimsy on an epic scale. Though it was deeply impressive, it nonetheless threw the critics who didn’t know what to make of it.
With hindsight we can see The King Goes Forth to France as the first full-scale manifestation of the muscular wit that is now a regular part of Sallinen’s compositional armoury. But since the work was not recorded until now, those comparisons had to be made in the memory. This excellent two-CD recording of the work, made in spring 2005, allows us to discover that what threw us in 1984 was the sheer subtlety of what Sallinen put before us. For The King Goes Forth to France manages to be lots of things at once.
The guiding rod through the piece, of course, is Sallinen’s music which likewise balances on a fine line between the comic and the tragic, building up remorselessly, symphonically, to its mightly concluding climax.
Martin Anderson, Finish Music Quarterly, 6/1/2006