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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Scènes Historiques I, op.25 (1899 arranged 1911) [18:12]
Scènes Historiques II, op.66 (1899 arranged 1912) [19:42]
King Christian II Suite, op.27 (1898) [25:34]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
rec. Wellington Town Hall, Wellington, New Zealand, 16-17 August 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570068 [63:28]

The two sets of Scènes Historiques were compiled and arranged in 1911 and 1912. The movements were compiled from pieces which started life in 1899 as incidental music for a pageant for the preservation of the freedom of the Finnish press which was seen to be at risk from the Russian presence in Finland and its policies. There was a seventh piece which Sibelius almost immediately reworked as Finlandia.

These two Suites contain much enjoyable music in the lighter Sibelian vein. A delightfully playful Overture - which, strangely, contains a slight reference to the bass sonorities of the 4th Symphony – how odd in this context - kicks off the first Suite. This gives way to a two part middle movement where, after a dialogue for bassoons, jubilant brass fanfares and marching music are the order of the day. Thrilling stuff it is too. Then, to change the mood entirely, the final movement contains a bolero rhythm and - how often do you find this in Sibelius? – the sound of castanets!

The second Suite is rather more serious, and, most interestingly, the music is peppered with sonorities which will become familiar in the later 5th Symphony! Again, it starts with a racy Overture and the second and third pieces contain a prominent part for the harp – so tellingly used in the tone poem The Bard, op.64 (1913) and the 6th Symphony, op.104 (1923).

Despite the fact that this is lighter Sibelius, there is a majesty and grandeur about some of the music, and the extrovert brass writing is exhilarating.

The incidental music to Adolf Paul’s play King Christian II is charming, hovering between serious and light! It’s very enjoyable music, easy on the ear with no pretensions to anything other than accompanying the play and being delightful. The Elegy for strings will be best known, as it has been recorded separately before, and it is a deeply felt piece of work. The Musette is a frolic for clarinet and bassoon. Only in the last movement, Ballade - which depicts the wrath of the King - does Sibelius let rip and write a large-scale fast movement full of incident. It might seem a little out of place by the side of the other, smaller, movements, but it makes an exhilarating end to the Suite. 

I have had in my collection, for some years, the Alexander Gibson recording of both Suites of Scènes Historiques and Berglund’s recording of the first and Beecham’s of the second Suites. All these performances treat the music in a much heavier manner than Inkinen and, on first hearing, I was disappointed with this new recording because I didn’t feel sufficient weight to the music. After listening to the CD six times I am fully convinced that this is a magnificent performance into which there has been invested a lot of thought and preparation. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays very well indeed, and I must mention the brass section which acquits itself commendably and makes a full, rounded, sound, which is always a joy to hear. The whole orchestra is on top form and, unlike a few of the recent Naxos CDs I have reviewed recently, the orchestra is placed a short distance from the microphones so the reverberation of the hall is heard to splendid effect after loud climaxes.

As an addition to the ever growing Sibelius catalogue this is most welcome.

Bob Briggs

 

 


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