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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (1903-5)
Serenades Op.69: No. 1 in D major; No. 2 in G minor (1912-13)
Six Humoresques Opp. 87, 89 (1917)
Suite in D minor Op. 117 (1929)
Miriam Fried (violin) (Op. 47)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Okko Kamu (Op. 47)
Jaakko Kuusisto (violin) (Op. 69)
Kuopio Symphony Orchestra/Atso Almila (Op. 69)
Leonidas Kavakos (violin) (Opp. 87, 89)
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Juhani Lamminmäki (Opp. 87, 89)
Jari Valo (violin) (Op. 117)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas (Op. 117)
rec. Olari Church, Finland, Nov 1996, May 1997. DDD
WARNER APEX 0927 40606-2 [79:17]

This is the most comprehensive single CD collection of Sibelius's music for violin and orchestra. That said, it is not complete and given the capacity of the CD there is no way a single CD could be.
Each work is taken by a different set of artists with the recordings assembled from the riches of the Finlandia storeroom - when will they reissue the Klami Psalmus? The Two Pieces for violin and orchestra (Cantique and Devotion - Laetare anima mea) are not included. As the note-writer says, there is some logic in their exclusion as they were written for cello and orchestra originally - nice to hear them in that form at some stage. This wish has now been fulfilled on BIS-CD-1485 (see review). You can hear their violin avatar on Ralph Holmes’ collection if you can find this long deleted Koch CD. They are Cinderella works having also been excluded from the Accardo and Kang collections. By way of valuable compensation we get the very rare Suite in their place. The choice was a good one as the Suite has some creative, melodic and memorably imaginative writing; something which I cannot say for the Two Pieces. While the Concerto has been multiply recorded and there have been several versions of the Serenades and Humoresques this is the only version of the Suite in D minor.
Let's start there. The Suite is in three movements. It is the only work here to be scored for solo and string orchestra. Its gentle intent is proclaimed by the pastoral movement titles: Country Scenery; Evening in Spring; In the Summer. These are unassumingly warm mezzotints with a gentle inclination. They share a temperature with the Humoresques rather than with the discursive Serenades. Little echoes of other works (often written later) do intrude. After the first two movements in which you can imagine a blend of Rakastava, The Lark Ascending and Finzi's Introit comes a perpetuum mobile flying along like an ingratiating wasp and shadowing the velocity of the Op. 87/2 Humoresque. The whole suite plays less than eight minutes. It was written in 1929 - his last opus numbered work - but do not expect Tapiola. It was first performed in 1990.
For record collectors the Humoresques existed for many years in a lone recording by Aaron Rosand with the South-West German Radio Orchestra/Tibor Szöke - now available as part of Voxbox CDX 5116. Rosand remains a major reference version and I urge you to hear his version. However the Vox coupling of various concerto warhorses lacks the composer-centred logic of the present disc. Kavakos's note production, especially high above the clef, is not as clean as Rosand’s. To compensate, the recording quality is nothing short of superb and the thoughtful deliberation that goes into Humoresques impresses even this reading does sound leisurely beside Rosand and Szoke's pulse-racing tempo. This is perhaps pushed a bridge too far in Humoresque 6 where the piece falters to a halt at 1.32. Both Rosand and Kavakos find delicacy in these works which, by a shading, outface alternatives from Dong Suk Kang (Bis), Mutter with Previn (DG 2894478952) and Accardo (Philips). Oistrakh recorded the Op. 87 Humoresques but never got to do the Op. 89 foursome. There is also an even older recording from the 1950s by Anja Ignatius. As far as I know Ralph Holmes - with Vernon Handley and one of the other Berlin orchestras - recording on Koch Schwann is no longer available. Kavakos's version is one to savour; he lovingly relishes every detail. If you want a winged mercury version then try Kang, Mutter or Rosand.
The two Serenades are major pieces written with ambitious intent. They are not dramatic aside from the odd climactic episode (No. 1 at 2.34 - strangely Elgarian). In the First Serenade there is a descending ‘grumbling’ passage that links with the Fourth Symphony at 4.00; nothing brutal or overstated. The Second Serenade is a fantasy of the shadows. This is a lovely version which I recommend very highly. Both are helped along by Kuusisto's Oistrakh-style tone and delivery.
Miriam Fried's range from a whispered glistening line to hoarsely projected tension works well in the Violin Concerto. Her tonal production is steady and pure. Her articulation under the pressure of Sibelius's acrobatics is not, however, in the leagues of Oistrakh (BMG-Melodiya), Julian Rachlin (Sony) or Haendel (EMI). Like everything else here the sound picture is natural even if there is the usual discreet boost to the solo instrument. Kamu is no tyro in Sibelius - witness his ClassicO of No. 7 and his very strong DG recordings of Symphonies 1, 3 and the Lemminkainen Legends, all with the Helsinki forces as here. I rather wish Kamu, a Karajan protégé, would give us a complete Sibelius cycle but this now seems unlikely. Kamu here accompanies with flexibility and caring attention to dynamic variety. Overall this is good rather than Hall of Fame material.
This disc is one of the jewels of the Apex catalogue. Notes are brief but much better than adequate. Musical values are high and even seasoned Sibelians will want this one given its generously timed and spirited coverage from predominantly Finnish artists. All for super-budget price.
Rob Barnett

see also review by Terry Barfoot


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