I have already reviewed Volume
3 in this series, when I was moved to remark that I had never
expected to enjoy a disc of Sibeliusís piano music so much. Not,
I hasten to add, because I donít like Sibelius (his symphonies
and tone poems appeal to me enormously) but because his piano
music has had a pretty bad press over the years, the idea being
that these are minor trinkets thrown off for money and unworthy
of the composer.
Well yes, considering that these are all mature
works (roughly contemporary with the Fifth Symphony) and straddle
the war years, it cannot be denied that they are light-hearted
little miniatures, optimistic in tone and frankly not recognisably
the work of the sombre prophet whose mightier utterances are among
the 20th Centuryís most durable monuments. They speak of indoor
things, of the salon, just as the symphonies and tone poems take
us out into the raw world of nature. It would be easy to dismiss
them, except that in order to do so we would have to close our
ears to the fact that they are, in their way, very good music.
As I said of the third volume, I donít think
Sibelius has been given sufficient credit for having recognised
that his typical orchestral style could not be transferred to
the piano and for having therefore evolved a sort of Nordic impressionism
all of his own. The music is very effectively laid out for the
piano and is unfailingly attractive. If it does not contain any
of the Sibelian fingerprints we expect, nor does it particularly
suggest other models (there are occasional reminders of Schumann
but none at all of Debussy, Grieg or Tchaikovsky, which might
have been expected) and it never seems second-hand. I think it
is too simplistic to dismiss it as not really "belonging"
to Sibelius; it reveals another side of his curiously split personality.
That I should have these thoughts is due in no
small measure to Gimseís excellent performances. He seems to know
instinctively just how to shape each one, freely but without exaggeration,
and his tone is always warm and often quite magical. I cannot
imagine better performances. I admit I havenít investigated the
competition, but even if the catalogue does contain performances
equal to these, the Naxos price would still be very much in the
present discís favour. The recording is excellent and there are
useful notes by Keith Anderson.