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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Complete Piano Music: Vol. 3

Menuetto in B flat major (preliminary version of Op.27 No.2) (1891-92) [2.42]
Waltz in D flat major (1891-93) [2.12]
Six Impromptus, Op.5 (1893) [18.22]
Two pieces from Karelia Suite, Op.11 (1893, arr.1897): I) Intermezzo [3.06]; II) Ballade [6.40]
Sonata in F major, Op.12 (1893) [16.57]
from The Wood-Nymph (Skogsrået), Op.15 (1894-95, arr. 1895) [3.18]
Allegretto in F major, JS 23 (1895-96) [2.40]
Caprizzio in B flat minor (1895) [2.10]
Lento in E major, JS 119 (1896-97) [3.22]
Allegretto in G minor, JS 225 (1897) [1.10]
Caprice, Op. 24/3 (first version 1898) [1.59]
Andantino in F major, Op. 24/7 (first version 1899) [3.34]
Menuetto in B flat major (1898-1900) [1.47]
March Triste, JS 124 (1899) [5.31]
Allegro in G minor (1899-1903) [1.26]
The Cavalier (Kavaljeren), JS 109 (1900) [1.29]
Folke Gräsbeck (piano)
rec. June 2003, Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1272 [79.58]


BIS, the enterprising Scandinavian label, has now reached volume 59 in their complete Sibelius series. For the ‘Complete Piano Music’, BIS have used versions from the major collection of manuscripts that the Sibelius family donated in 1982 to the Helsinki University Library. The collection has revealed Sibelius’s output in the genre of the piano to be far richer and more extensive than was first realised. BIS claim that eleven of the sixteen piano works are world première recordings.
 
Some of the works on this release will be familiar to many music lovers, although not in this piano form. The programme includes Sibelius’s own transcriptions from the Karelia Suite and The Wood-Nymph. The existence of several of the scores, including the Marche Triste, have only come to light after detailed cataloguing of the donated manuscripts. This chosen programme provides invaluable insights into the Finnish master’s creative genius.
 
The sixteen works are all of an extremely short duration with the exception of the Six Impromptus, Op.5, the two pieces from the Karelia Suite, Op. 11 and the Piano Sonata in F major, Op.12. In their entirety the Six Impromptus from 1893 are a worthy pianistic pendant to Kullervo, the symphonic poem for soloists, chorus and orchestra. The Impromptus were described by Sibelius biographer Guy Rickards as, “One of his most charming sets of piano pieces.” The fifth is a popular work in its own right, described as, “the shining jewel of the set” and is in the repertoire of most Finnish pianists.
 
From his famous Karelia Suite for orchestra, Op. 11 (1893-94) Sibelius arranged the first two movements; the Intermezzo and the Ballade for piano in 1897. The pair are Sibelius’s first opus numbered piano transcriptions. Some readers will undoubtedly remember the orchestral version of the Intermezzo being used for many years as the theme tune to the long running UK ITV current affairs programme This Week. Sibelius composed his Piano Sonata in F major, Op.12 in 1893. It is one of his major works of Kalevala Romanticism, yet unaccountably is one of his most neglected pieces. The F major score serves as a culmination of Sibelius’s roughly forty youthful piano pieces.  
 
Folke Gräsbeck is a specialist in the piano music and chamber works of Sibelius and is well represented in the BIS catalogue. Gräsbeck studied the piano under Tarmo Huovinen at the Turku Conservatory (1962-74) and won first prize in the Maj Lind Competition in 1973. He was taught privately in London by Maria Curcio-Diamond and also studied under Prof. Erik T. Tawaststjerna at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and was made a Master of Music there in 1997. Gräsbeck has performed more than 200 of Sibelius’s 550 or so compositions and has given world première performances of 82 of them. Gräsbeck was the first pianist to give a recital at the new Sibelius Hall in Lahti in 2000 where he performed a programme exclusively devoted to Sibelius piano music premières. His Sibelius repertoire also includes the Piano Quintet in G minor, the Piano Quartets and the complete works for Piano Trio. In 1996 he was awarded the medal of Sibelius’s Birthplace in Hämeenlinna.
 
Gräsbeck proves himself an expert exponent in these piano scores with playing that does not discriminate between serious works of a more substantial nature and brief, lighter-veined pieces. Throughout he displays remarkable technical prowess with a striking refinement of musicianship. His Steinway D instrument has a consistently delightful timbre. Gräsbeck’s interpretations feel remarkably fresh and direct. His playing of the D flat major Waltz makes the listener want to dance. I loved the way he communicates the tension and drama in the G minor Allegro.
 
From the Karelia Suite, the popular and stirring march-like Intermezzo is performed with character and vigour and in the Ballade Gräsbeck blends careful thought with emotional depth. I was especially impressed with his remarkable array of colours and natural response to the contrasting moods of the F major Sonata; a strong work that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
 
There were occasions when I detected a certain constraint to the playing, when it would have been more interpretatively appropriate to have loosened the inhibitions. Although Gräsbeck describes the Allegretto in F minor in the notes as, “a dreamy lyrical minuet that displays a sort of dreamy neo-rococo style” I felt that the piece came over as rather stilted and was crying out for additional pace and spirit. I would apply the same viewpoint to the B flat major Menuetto where a touch more buoyancy to the performance would have been preferable.
 
The recorded sound from the BIS engineers is well balanced, clear and detailed and the liner notes, written by the soloist, are of a high standard. BIS are to be congratulated for providing a generous playing time of eighty minutes. Sibelius lovers will surely relish this lovingly performed release.
 
Michael Cookson
 

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