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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Karelia Overture (1892) [8.36]
The Wood-Nymph (1895) [22.22]
Spring Song (1894) [8.23]
King Christian II suite (1898) [24.38]
The Dryad (1910) [6.02]
Dance Intermezzo (1907) [2.35]
Pan and Echo (1906) [4.29]
Kuopio Symphony Orchestra/Shuntaro Sato
rec Apr, Nov, 2002, Kuopio Music Centre, Kuopio, Finland. DDD
FINLANDIA 0927-49598-2 [78.05]


I am not at all sure though about Sato's Sibelius. The Karelia Overture (a rare piece albeit recalling episodes from the suite) was much more fluently handled by Alexander Gibson on an EMI or CFP LP. Sato is flatteringly recorded but gallingly the whole thing lumbers along on arthritic joints. The Wood-Nymph is better, taking a while to warm up but with some classic mature Sibelian touches as at 3.34 in the whistling flutes and at 6.12 with the very original Tapiola-like helter-skelter brass. It is a flawed piece without the coherence of vision found in Nightride and Sunrise, or Oceanides, let alone Pohjola's Daughter or Tapiola. Nevertheless there is much in it to please Sibelians and others including the whispered ululating yelps of the strings at 10.43 - an imaginative coup. The climactic stuttered-out statement (19.30 onwards) by strings and brass has an heroically indomitable character unlike anything else in Sibelius. Overall this is rather square-jawed and take-it-or-leave-it but it is impressive.

Spring Song is more akin to the First Symphony with its broader and dark canvas, vexed dramatics and Mussorgskian bells (7.20). Sato's propensity for the steady pulse works superbly in the King Christian II music especially in the Nocturne. While a little more playfulness would have been welcome in the Musette the deliberate approach becomes more of a liability in the Serenade which lacks fluency. Much the same can be said of the Ballade - more rhythmic lift needed. The Dryad is the latest piece here and is the most sphinx-like - the closest approach to the coldly remote planet that is the Fourth Symphony; a work of which it sometimes seems to be an epitome. The Dance Intermezzo is more ingratiating with its steely harp glint and silvery tambourine line. It is like a cheerier version of Valse Triste. Pan and Echo is a much less enigmatic piece than Nielsen's of about the same vintage. It is almost sentimentally endearing and finds its dancing shoes from 2.38 onwards. It occasionally swaps delicacy for a galumphingly Iberian flavour.

Nice to see a themed Sibelius album; not to mention one that at the same time runs to almost 80 minutes. The theme is the pastoral though not necessarily lighter Sibelius. This is predominantly the miniaturist poet not the symphonist. It is in some measure comparable with the Jussi Jalas theatre music collection (Decca) or the EMI Classics Gemini set of Charles Groves RLPO collection.

Rob Barnett


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