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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Karelia Music (1893) [44:08]
Tableau 1: Karelian Home - Runic song interrupted by War Music (1293)
Tableau 2: The Founding of Viipuri Castle (1293)
Tableau 3: Narimont the Duke of Lithuania levying taxes in the province of Käkisalmi (1333)
Intermezzo I
Tableau 4: Ballade - Karl Knutsson in Viipuri Castle (1446)
Tableau 5: Pontus de la Gardie at the Gates of Käkisalmi (1580)
Intermezzo II
Tableau 6: The Siege of Viipuri (1710)
Tableau 7/8: The Reunion of Old Finland (Karelia) with the rest of Finland (1811)
Finish National Anthem Our Land
(Tableaux 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 reconstructed by Jouni Kaipainen, 1997)
Press Celebrations Music (1899) [34:27]
Tableau 1: The Song of Väinämöinen
Tableau 2: The Finns are Baptised
Tableau 3: Duke John at Turku Castle
Tableau 4: The Finns in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648)
Tableau 5: The Great Hostility (period of war between 1713-1721)
Tableau 6: Finland Awakes
Tellu Virkkala, soprano
Anna-Kaisa Liedes, soprano
Juha Kotilainen, baritone
Tampere Philharmonic Choir
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Tuomas Ollila
rec. Tampere Hall, Jan 1998. DDD
ONDINE ODE 9130 [78:45]

The Karelia Suite and Finlandia represent the familiarity factor and provide reassurance while listening to this otherwise often unknown music.

Approaching 44 minutes of the 1893 Karelia Music, written as a patriotic sequence of tableaux vivante, provided the quarry for the Karelia Suite and the lesser known Karelia Overture. The Press Celebration Music - another historical tableaux work - includes the grand tune from Finlandia as Finland Awakes.

In the case of the Karelia Music, Olilla and the Tampere Philharmonic take things pretty briskly. There is no dawdling in the Overture. They set an invigorating pace ... and it works extremely well. The shivering quiet gallop of the strings at the introduction of Karelian Home is superbly sung by the sopranos Tellu Virkkala and Anna-Kaisa Liedes. This exciting ‘tremble’ prefigures a similar ostinato in the much later Luonnotar. Tremulous excitement, fanfares and a bardic majesty characterise the brief Narimont track. Intermezzo I is familiar from the Karelia Suite although there are some pleasingly unfamiliar orchestrational touches. Olilla perfectly captures all the pregnant suspense and accelerating tension of the music although the banal repetitive ‘oompah’ accompaniment at 2:09 misses perfection for reasons lying at Sibelius’s feet. Tableau IV Ballade - Karl Knutsson in Viipuri Castle is also familiar in its calming serenity and devotional processional qualities. Darkly bristling tension rustles and threatens its way through the pages of Tableaux V and VI and those fanfares return. The music seems to speak of fell deeds, assaults by night and medieval sieges. Intermezzo II is well known to us as the finale of the Karelia Suite. The resinous solo clarinet introduces the final twin Tableaux 7 and 8 in tr. 10 where tragedy threads its way through triumph. The playing throughout is magnificent and the blaze of massed singing by the Tampere Philharmonic Choir in Our Land is impressive by anyone’s standards.

Then comes almost 35 minutes of Sibelius’s Press Celebrations Music. This is all excitingly patriotic stuff and it is played for all it is worth. There is plenty here to enjoy and no sense of barrel-scraping. If you revel in early Sibelius up to the Second Symphony then you should not hesitate. The reverential The Finns Are Baptised is clearly influenced by Russian Orthodox chant. The rasp and roll of the brass was later to be more effectively exploited in Nightride and Sunrise and the Fourth Symphony. However it is still there in Duke John at Turku Castle. It is followed by a trace of almost Elgarian nobilmente and Bizet-Hispanic magnificence at 2:35. A plangent Tchaikovskian oboe plays in the first part of Tableau 4. The Great Hostility is abrasively dark and epic in character which carries over into the often overlooked coal-black bark and rasp of the brass in the Introduction to Finland Awakes. This is the work we know as Finlandia but here provided with a different and less convincing finale.

I enjoyed all of this music. It may be early Sibelius but it is radiant with inspiration and can be enjoyed for its own sake and not as a precursor to things to come. This disc also gives a wonderful opportunity to hear some very familiar music in an original context.

This is one of a series of twenty CDs freshly packaged in new slip cases to mark Ondine’s twentieth anniversary. The original discs have been selected from this company’s substantial back catalogue.

Both Bis and Virgin have done great work for Sibelius’s music. Let’s not forget the magnificent work done by Ondine who time after time produce faultless no-compromise recordings like this. This is Sibelius presented with unshakeable confidence. Outstanding - one of the glories of the catalogue. No Sibelian should be without this disc.

Rob Barnett

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