> SIBELIUS Maiden in the tower: P Jarvi [RB]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Maiden in the Tower (1896) [36.40]
Pelléas et Mélisande (1905) [25.46]
Valse Triste (1903) [4.47]
Solveig Kringelborn (sop)
Lilli Paaskivi (mezzo)
Lars-Erik Jonsson (ten)
Garry Magee (bar)
Ellerhein Girls' Choir
Estonian National Male Choir
Estonian National SO/Paavo Järvi
rec 23-26 March 2001, Estonia concert hall, Tallinn
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 5 45493 2 8 [67.38]


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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.

Rob Barnett

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