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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Piano Music: Volume 5

Six Bagatelles Op.97
Eight Petits Morceaux Op.99
Five Morceaux Romantiques Op.101
Five Characteristic Impressions Op.103
Five Esquisses Op.114
Håvard Gimse (piano)
25th-26th April 2001 at St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire.
NAXOS 8.555853 [59:11]


This has been my first encounter with the Naxos Sibelius’ piano cycle – up to Volume 5 – and it has been rather bewildering. Almost nothing is characteristic of the orchestral composer and a great deal was written for popular consumption. It would be stretching it somewhat to say that this was hackwork for publishers eager to get their hands on melodious dainties and trifles for the parlour – but only somewhat. Still, even composers have to eat and it’s undeniable that there are some delights and intriguing cross-currents amidst the generic Bagatelles and Stücke.

The Lied from the Six Bagatelles is limpid and wistful and the Impromptu from the same set is explicitly Chopinesque. The Petit Morceaux are salon sweet and there’s a welcome vigour to the Petite Marche that rounds off the set. The Romance of the Five Romantic Pieces is a bigger affair altogether – richer voicings and more persuasively romantic, though still not Sibelian. He does embrace Impressionism in the tints of the Chant du soir from the same cycle and there’s some amusing, stuttering rhythm in the Humoresque (living up to its name). The Scène romantique is by some distance the most touching piece on the album – reserved and affecting. His nature depiction tends to be dutiful rather than in any way inspired and the Esquisses, landscape and forest scenes that might have been expected to challenge him, resolutely fail to rouse him.

The playing is very fine, Gimse bringing out Schumannesque, Chopinesque and indeed the very occasional Debussian moments here. Obviously this is one for the Compleat Sibelian.

Jonathan Woolf

 See also review by Christopher Howell

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