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JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Complete Youth Production for Piano - Volume 1
Folke Gräsbeck, piano
BIS 1067 [78:33]
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Andante in E flat
Aubade in A flat
Au crépuscule (At Twilight) in F sharp minor
Con moto, sempre una corda in D flat
Scherzo and Trio in E, E minor
Scherzo (with Trio) in E, A
3 Short Pieces
5 Short Piecez
50 Short Pieces, 'A Catalogue of Themes'
Trånaden - Suckarnas mystèr (Yearning - The Mystery of the Sighs)
Variations on an harmonic formula in D

This disc, packed to the gunnels with music, is of undoubted academic interest; but don't buy it if you are on the look-out for undiscovered early masterpieces. A great deal of the music comes into the category of student exercises - indeed, tracks 8 to 12 consist of fifty openings, some just a few seconds long, which the twenty-year-old Sibelius was required to compose as a task for his teacher at the Helsinki Music Institute. The authentic voice of the composer is, on the whole, notable by its absence. It's Schumann who seems to loom largest.

A little more of the real Sibelius in waiting may be found in the Fantasy for piano with recitation Yearning (The Mystery of the Sighs). Here, the composer is responding to the poetry of Stagnelius, recited on the disc by the actor Lasse Põysti. (Strange how beautiful poetry can be in an almost totally unfamiliar language!) But it still confirms that the mature composer with his own distinct style is years away - Sibelius was no youthful prodigy, and it becomes all the more impressive, when one contemplates the banality and awkwardness of much that is here, that he did, in time, arrive at such a powerfully individual means of expressing himself.

This disc takes us from 1885 to 1888, and, having voiced the above reservations, it has to be said that there is a world of difference between the banality of the Scherzo in E major of track 1 and the characterful, if stunted, Three Short Pieces that bring the recording to an end.

Folke Grãsbeck deserves praise for completing what must have been, at times, an unrewarding task. His playing is eloquent, though in his desire to 'sell' the music, he sometimes goes over the top, and produces a hard tone. There is also a clicking clearly audible when he plays loud or very fast notes; possibly a ring or some such? This is actually very distracting, and I'm astonished the BIS engineers didn't pick it up.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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