Paavo Järvi makes the best case so far for Sibelius's
single opera. This keeps the opera's discography in the family. The
only other disc is the recording conducted by Neeme Järvi (Paavo's
father) from the late 1980s. It is still there in the BIS catalogue
(CD 250 with Gothenburg forces and Jorma Hynninen with Mari-Anne Häggander)
but from my recollection that recording pales by comparison with this
gripping performance recorded with a very successful illusion of concert-hall
breadth and depth - close to the listener yet not claustrophobically
so. The Estonia Concert Hall should be a much sought-after recording
venue on this showing.
The opera is about the same length as Delius's Margot
la Rouge, Szymanowski's Hagith and Holst's Wandering Scholar;
not as much of a hothouse plant as Hagith - rather closer to
Margot though stronger I think.
The opera is in eight scenes with a brief overture
and an orchestral interlude separating scenes one and two. The story
is essentially of two lovers (Kringelborn and Jonsson) thwarted by the
malign bailiff (Magee) who is finally overruled by the clear-eyed judgement
of the Chatelaine (Paaskivi). It did not do well at its Helsinki premiere
and though Sibelius flirted with other operatic projects this was the
only one to emerge. In fact it is thoroughly enjoyable (though without
the irrepressible ruddy urgency of Lemminkainen and Kullervo)
especially as here where the artists play and sing it for all it is
worth ... and possibly more. Ideal CD home listening. Just one footnote
- in scene 3 the choral parallels with the dramatic writing in Kullervo,
that most operatic of symphonies, are self-evident. The duet and trio
work in scene 5 are delightful. The voices are fresh and aptly married
to the spirit of the music.
This Pelléas is a good one with gutsy
attack in the strings and plenty of balletic rhythmic life. Valse
Triste is rather lack-lustre though I confess I have never heard
the patterned string figure at 02.00 done with such a 'feather-shadowed'
accent - very individual.
The Estonian orchestra (already known for their creditable
Tubin and Madetoja symphony series on Alba) can look forward to further
recording contracts while they play like this.
The notes are from Robert Layton so we know that we
are in safe hands. The sung texts are given in German, English, Swedish
(the sung language of the opera) and French.
Opera house productions of The Maiden are not
likely to be common. If you are curious (and you should be) you need
not hesitate. The choice, this time, is clear. What is more Virgin is
more generous with Valse Triste and nine episodes from Pelléas
rather than the Karelia Suite coupling on the BIS disc.