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Jan SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Piano Music Volume 5

6 Bagatelles op.97; 8 Petits Morceaux op.99; 5 Morceaux Romantiques op.101; 5 Characteristic Impressions op.103; 5 Esquisses op.114
Håvard Gimse (piano)
Recorded 25th-26th April 2001 at St. Martinís Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, UK
NAXOS 8.555853 [59:11]

Iíve already reviewed volumes 3 and 4 in this series and I have to stress again, for readers who love Sibeliusís orchestral works and hope to find more of the same here, how extraordinary it is that a composer whose orchestral music is instantly recognizable and generally instantly memorable as well, simply becomes another person when he writes for the piano. It is not that the writing is as unpianistic as it is sometimes said to be Ė or at least, in Gimseís hands it sounds mostly well-written and resourceful Ė and I suppose we have to hand it to Sibelius for recognizing that his orchestral style would not transfer to the keyboard and for not trying to make it do so. No, the puzzling thing is that here is (apparently) music by a minor late-romantic with a deft turn of phrase, a droll sense of humour and some gift for atmosphere, but also with a tendency to lapse into sentimentality and stock effects. If Sibelius had written nothing else we might still remember his name, but not as that of a great composer. The music has a voice of its own, but that voice is not Sibeliusís.

Still, if you like listening to fluent and agreeable romantic piano music, in Håvard Gimse you will find an interpreter who sometimes makes free with the music but who brings it all vividly to life. His vitality in the attractive Kleiner Walzer (op.97/3), his passionate sweep in the Romance (op.101/1; not the fairly well-known Romance in D flat and perhaps the better for it) and his realisation of the gentle melancholy of several of the op.114 pieces (the nearest any of this music comes to actually sounding a little like Sibelius) suggest a real love of his task and not just stern duty. In short, if you want this music I canít imagine it better done Ė and the few alternatives around donít come at the Naxos price anyway. But if you want Sibelius, go to the symphonies, the other orchestral pieces, and also to the songs. You wonít find him here.

Christopher Howell

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