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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Orchestral Songs

Mari-Anne Häggander (soprano)
Jorma Hynninen (baritone)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Jorma Panula
Rec 1985?
BIS-CD-270 [55.00?]


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Another super CD from BIS, this time a selection of the orchestral songs of Jean Sibelius.

Wagner was the greatest in this genre and Wagnerís influence can be heard in these Sibelius songs. The other great orchestral song writers were Max Reger and Hans Pfitzner. Perhaps the greatest orchestral song cycle is Richard Straussís Four Last songs, sublime music indeed.

It is my view that we have a dearth of good male singers worldwide. But I have to say that the baritone here, Jorma Hynninen, is undeniably first class. Born in Finland he won the Finnish Singing Competition in 1969 and made his concert debut in 1970. I wish the sleeve notes gave more details of his operatic roles. He is a baritone that is neither light nor heavy but has a well judged voice.

Mari-Anne Haggänder is also good but does not possess the tenderness of Hynninen. Her top register is gloriously clear and, in a good sense, piercing and clear like a Nordic winter. She has sung Eva in Wagnerís The Mastersingers and Mimi in La Bohème.

Jorma Panula is now 71 and is very versatile. He conducts these songs quite expertly and the recording is of excellent sound.

Sibelius was into nature and was a pantheist. He believed in the many gods of nature. He was interested in the poetry of Erik Johan Stagnelius of which the opening Serenade is an example. It has a glorious sound recalling Wagner. The baritone is strong but in a very tender way. The constant changes of time signature add to the interest.

The Song of the Cross Spider Op 27:4 is the only vocal item in Adolf Paulís play for which Sibelius wrote his King Christian II Suite. The spider, sung by the jester, is a portrait of evil. I prefer Monica Groopís performance but have to say that the orchestral version adds colour to this memorable song.

On a balcony by the sea is one of Sibeliusís sparse songs. The words are by another favourite poet Viktor Rydberg. It is almost operatic in design with an opening recitative passage. It is another nature poem and the climax, albeit brief, is staggering and worth waiting for.

The setting of Shakespeare is a popular choice for composers and Sibelius turned to Twelfth Night for Come Away Death, a symphonic song rooted in G sharp minor. It is sombre but very telling and here Hynninen is at his best. It is a really beautiful song and certainly captures the mood to perfection.

Another choice song is The Diamond in the March Snow. It has a gentle sparkle in a spacious utterance. Again the vocal line is memorable and the song has a patriotic feel about it. Listen to the singerís care over every nuance. It is sad and nostalgic but with a quiet confidence and is very tender

The highlight of the disc is The Rapid-Shooters Bride, a ballad for baritone (or mezzo) and orchestra. Wilhelm, the rider of the rapids, takes his bride, Anna, with him to ride the rapids but the boat is torn asunder and the lovers disappear in the swirling foam. The orchestration, still recalling Wagner, also hints at the Lemminkainen ballads and the first two symphonies, faultless and full of colour. The drama is wonderfully caught here and even in passages where nothing is happening there is great expectation. The swirling waters and rain are transferred into orchestral sound which is nothing short of breathtaking. The sinister recurring four note brass theme spells disaster. Marvellously sung and brilliantly brought off.

The soprano takes over for the final items. Sunrise also begins with a recitative passage. it is another sparse song being rather desolate. The stillness is well portrayed and Hägganderís melisma is very good. Eventually the world awakes and the superb top notes pierce the forbidding snow (a tremendous moment). The Wagner influence, particularly Isolde, is here. It is a strangely satisfying song. This is followed by And I questioned them no further, a song of charm and lost love. Again Wagner is not far away and we expect the Rhinemaidens at any moment.

Arioso is a wonderful song. One could be forgiven for thinking one is in church with the sounds as if of an organ and a simple processional hymn. The distant timpani give it an eerie feel in a song which is sung with great sensitivity.

 

The girl went out one winter morning
In the misty covered meadow
Saw a faded rose and said:
Weep not, weep not, dearest flower
That your fairest time is over,
You have loved and you have enjoyed
You have known your spring and pleasure.

'Ere the winter cold could reach you
A far worse fate my heart has found
To both at once both spring and winter.
My own boyís eye its day in spring
And my motherís is its winter
Weep not, dearest flower,
That your fairest time is over.

Two other songs need no comment and the disc ends with the tone poem for soprano and orchestra, Luonnotar, Op. 70 from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. I have also noted the similarity between this and James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and the whole idea that there is no God and that nature itself is the creator and giver of all life, which is an evolution dogma.

It is a good piece. The wonderful clarity of the voice, particularly at climaxes, is excellent and while many may refer to this work, and others, as dark Sibelius, I think it is highly-romantic. I have heard it sung better and many times heard it sung far worse but this disc is a jewel which all lovers of quality music will treasure.


David Wright

 


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