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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Seriously Sibelius
In Memoriam, funeral march for large orchestra, Op. 59, First version (1909) [10:25]*
Two pieces for violin (cello) and orchestra, Op. 77, No. 1, Laetare anima mea. Cantique; No. 2, Devotion (Ab imo pectore) [5:09; 3:23]
Presto for strings (1894) [6:45]
Lemminkäinen, four legends for orchestra, Op. 22, No. 3, Lemminkäinen in Tuonela (1896) (based on performing edition by Colin Davis, 2004) [22:07]*
Humoresques 1-6 for violin and orchestra, in D minor, Op. 87, No. 1, Humoresque no. 1 First version (1917) [3:07]*
Three pieces for orchestra, Op. 96, No. 1, Valse lyrique (1919 orch. 1920) [4:06]; No. 2, Autrefois, scène pastorale. two sopranos (or clarinets) and orchestra (1919 rev. 1920) [5:40]; No. 3, Valse chevaleresque (1921-22) [4:00]
In Memoriam, funeral march for large orchestra, Op. 59 revised version (1910) [11:21]
Marko Ylönen (cello); Jaakko Kuusisto (violin); Kristiina Mäkëla (soprano); Matleena Vakkilainen (alto)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
World premiere recordings *
rec. Sibelius Hall, Lahti, August 2004; January 2004; January 2005; August 2000. DDD
BIS-CD-1485 [77:54]

Perhaps predictably this CD must not be missed by any true Sibelian. And there is something here for adherents of all phases and styles in the composer’s creative life.
In Memoriam is a potent funeral march with a nice balance of grief-stricken nobility and lightning-strike fury. It’s tread is sturdy and at times Mahlerian; at others Elgarian. It’s not a commonly encountered piece but far from unheard. For example it is on that EMI Gemini of Groves’ Sibelius and was also tackled by Segerstam, as part of the Chandos Sibelius symphonies cycle. Vänskä and the Bis recording team produce a most transparent and satisfying sound with resounding impact. I prefer the original version which feels tighter all round with its more sharply delineated rhythmic contours. The revision sprawls.
The Two Serious Melodies were written for solo violin but are more in tune with the character of the solo cello. They are reverent and soulful pieces without the silvery abandon of the Humoresques. In Marko Ylönen’s hands they work more successfully than any violin version I have heard.
The Presto for strings is comparable with the Rakastava Suite but a degree or two more ardent and warm-blooded. The wistful romance emanates from the same world as Tatiana’s music from Eugene Onegin. It’s a superbly propulsive piece made for popular success without any trace of the tired or shoddy. This is one of those pieces you will want to play again and again. It starts with a rousingly dynamic pizzicato. This would make a glorious aperitif to a performance of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro.
All four movements of the Lemminkainen Suite were revised by the composer after their 1896 concert premiere; some of them repeatedly. We have heard two of the four in reconstructed original versions on BIS-CD-1015. Now comes this 1896 Lemminkainen in Tuonela in which Vänskä sets a broad pulse yet sustains tremendous rumbling tension across a remarkable 22:07. The orchestration feels more airy than the dense-tense version we all know. This is fascinating to encounter and not merely as a curiosity. Vänskä underlines the barely whispered and tense rustle at 11:40 as a precursor to similar passages in The Bard and Luonnotar. Cool, eerie and otherworldly stuff. The typical playing time of the commonly heard 1954 version is about ten minutes.
Jaakko Kuusisto gives us the premiere recording of the original version of the First of the Six Humoresques. His playing is suitably luminous and silvery. The only difference from the familiar reconstructed 1940 version is in the rustling orchestral backdrop. If you are in need of the complete Six Humoresques go for that inexpensive Warner disc with Kavakos (see review) but on no account miss hearing Rosand on Vox: Aaron Rosand with the South-West German Radio Orchestra/Tibor Szöke now available as part of Voxbox CDX 5116 (see review). If you want to try other more modern recordings there is one from Dong Suk Kang (BIS) and another from Mutter with Previn (DG 2894478952)
The Three Pieces despite being late works are salon or tea-room Sibelius touched with the hazy web of memories of his time in Vienna. This sedate music sits comfortably alongside the light music in the Charles Groves Gemini  EMI double 7243 5 85532 2 2 (see review)
Stereo and spatial qualities throughout are a consistent delight.
Documentation is extremely well done by Andrew Barnett (no relation) and satisfies the natural curiosity stirred by so many recording premieres.
Out of the seven works three are world première recordings. But its virtues are only trivially attributable to gap-filling. Splendid Sibelius and the inspiration only sags with the Three Pieces. Delights for Sibelians and by no means all serious.
Rob Barnett


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