has been my first encounter with the Naxos Sibelius’ piano cycle
– up to Volume 5 – and it has been rather bewildering. Almost
nothing is characteristic of the orchestral composer and a great
deal was written for popular consumption. It would be stretching
it somewhat to say that this was hackwork for publishers eager
to get their hands on melodious dainties and trifles for the
parlour – but only somewhat. Still, even composers have to eat
and it’s undeniable that there are some delights and intriguing
cross-currents amidst the generic Bagatelles and Stücke.
Lied from the Six Bagatelles is limpid and wistful and the Impromptu
from the same set is explicitly Chopinesque. The Petit Morceaux
are salon sweet and there’s a welcome
vigour to the Petite Marche that rounds off the set. The Romance
of the Five Romantic Pieces is a bigger affair altogether –
richer voicings and more persuasively romantic, though still
not Sibelian. He does embrace Impressionism in the tints of
the Chant du soir from the same cycle and there’s some amusing,
stuttering rhythm in the Humoresque (living up to its name).
The Scène romantique is by some distance the most touching piece
on the album – reserved and affecting. His nature depiction
tends to be dutiful rather than in any way inspired and the
Esquisses, landscape and forest scenes that might have been
expected to challenge him, resolutely fail to rouse him.
playing is very fine, Gimse bringing out Schumannesque, Chopinesque
and indeed the very occasional Debussian moments here. Obviously
this is one for the Compleat Sibelian.
by Christopher Howell