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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Jan SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Piano Music Volume 4

4 Lyric Pieces op.74 (1914), 5 Pieces op.75 (1914), 13 Pieces op.76 (1911-1916), 5 Pieces op.85 (1916-1917), 6 Pieces op.94 (1919)
Håvard Gimse (piano)
Recorded 22-23.11.2000, St. Martinís Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, UK
NAXOS 8.555363 [62:11]

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I have already reviewed Volume 3 in this series, when I was moved to remark that I had never expected to enjoy a disc of Sibeliusís piano music so much. Not, I hasten to add, because I donít like Sibelius (his symphonies and tone poems appeal to me enormously) but because his piano music has had a pretty bad press over the years, the idea being that these are minor trinkets thrown off for money and unworthy of the composer.

Well yes, considering that these are all mature works (roughly contemporary with the Fifth Symphony) and straddle the war years, it cannot be denied that they are light-hearted little miniatures, optimistic in tone and frankly not recognisably the work of the sombre prophet whose mightier utterances are among the 20th Centuryís most durable monuments. They speak of indoor things, of the salon, just as the symphonies and tone poems take us out into the raw world of nature. It would be easy to dismiss them, except that in order to do so we would have to close our ears to the fact that they are, in their way, very good music.

As I said of the third volume, I donít think Sibelius has been given sufficient credit for having recognised that his typical orchestral style could not be transferred to the piano and for having therefore evolved a sort of Nordic impressionism all of his own. The music is very effectively laid out for the piano and is unfailingly attractive. If it does not contain any of the Sibelian fingerprints we expect, nor does it particularly suggest other models (there are occasional reminders of Schumann but none at all of Debussy, Grieg or Tchaikovsky, which might have been expected) and it never seems second-hand. I think it is too simplistic to dismiss it as not really "belonging" to Sibelius; it reveals another side of his curiously split personality.

That I should have these thoughts is due in no small measure to Gimseís excellent performances. He seems to know instinctively just how to shape each one, freely but without exaggeration, and his tone is always warm and often quite magical. I cannot imagine better performances. I admit I havenít investigated the competition, but even if the catalogue does contain performances equal to these, the Naxos price would still be very much in the present discís favour. The recording is excellent and there are useful notes by Keith Anderson.

Christopher Howell



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