Sibelius was himself a violinist, and his understanding
of the instrument is one of his greatest strengths as a composer. It
constantly shows in the symphonies and other orchestral works, of course,
and as one might expect it is uppermost in the qualities of the music
collected in this interesting programme.
Given that his output of solo-orchestra music is relatively
small, and can be contained on a single CD, albeit generously filled,
it is surprising that the programme is not more common. In fact it makes
sense and is one of the chief attractions of this issue which couples
a good performance of the Violin Concerto from the 1980s with interesting
recent performances of the less celebrated music.
Miriam Fried and the Helsinki Philharmonic recorded
the Violin Concerto for Finlandia in 1988. She was already an experienced
soloist, having won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels back
in 1971. Soon after that she released her first recording of the Sibelius
Concerto (on DGG), which was warmly received. But this second version
is probably better still, remarkably assured in technique and captured
in a sensitive and atmospherically balanced recording. Okko Kamu confirms
his Sibelian credentials with perfectly paced tempi, always at one with
his soloist. Fried is not afraid to wring the utmost emotion from the
music, as when she pulls back the tempo in the more expressive moments
of the first movement. Not everyone will like this, but I find it characterful
The slow movement is eloquently drawn, though her sound
has not quite the purity of tone of some others, such as Kyung-Wha-Chung
(Decca) or Cho Liang Lin (Sony). The finale is taken at a relatively
sedate pace, and therefore lacks the sheer exhilaration that this music
can bring. Instead the sonorities are rich and rewarding; this is a
matter of interpretation and judgement, and there is more than one answer
to the interpretative problems. Fried's is perfectly acceptable, if
not as exciting as it might be. In all, a compelling and rewarding performance.
The same can also be said for Kavakos in the Humoresques.
These fine pieces are not as well known as they might be, and this violinist
knows and loves his Sibelius, as his remarkable performances of both
versions (early and revised) of the Violin Concerto (BIS) has already
shown us. The Tapiola Sinfonietta too has excellent credentials and
make the ideal partners.
The slighter items, the Suite and the two Serenades,
are idiomatically performed, but they are adequate rather than inspired,
both as performances and as music. The Suite (1929, so the notes tell
us) comes very late in the composer's output, but it is not especially
inspired. Nor, once again, is the layout and design of the Apex booklet.
Why leave one of the four pages completely blank when the print is so