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OF THE MONTH
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OF THE MONTH
SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
Songs, Volume 1
(To Evening), Op. 17, No. 6 [1:37]
Våren flyktar hastigt (Spring is flying), Op. 13, No. 4 [1:37]
Den första kyssen
(The First Kiss), Op. 37, No. 1 [1:54]
Svarta rosor (Black Roses), Op. 36, No.
Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings
möte (The Tryst), Op. 37, No. 5 [2:50]
Säv, säv, susa (Reed, reed, rustle), Op.
36, No. 4 [2:33]
Var det en dröm?
(Was it a Dream?), Op. 37, No. 4 [1:57]
Demanten på marssnön (The Diamond on the
March Snow), Op. 36, No. 6 [2:45]
Lastu lainehilla (Driftwood), Op. 17, No.
Souda, souda, sinisorsa (Row, row, duck),
JS 180 [1:45]
Kaiutar (The Echo Nymph), Op. 72, No. 4
Segelfahrt (Sailing), JS 166 [1:51]
Im Feld ein Mädchen singt (In the Field
a Maid Sings), Op. 50, No. 3 [3:03]
Sehnsucht (Longing), Op. 50, No. 2 [1:51]
Die stille Stadt (The Silent City), Op.
50, No. 5 [2:45]
(Serenade), JS 167 [3:02]
(A Song), JS 71 [1:41]
Den första kyssen
(The First Kiss), JS 57* [2:10]
Orgier (Orgies), JS 143* [2:21]
Säv, säv, susa (Reed, reed, rustle), JS
(Sunrise), JS 87* [2:31]
Vänskapens blomma (The Flower of Friendship),
JS 215* [2:44]
Six Songs, Op. 88:
No. 1: Sinivuokko (Blåsippan: The Anemone)
No. 2: Kaksi ruusua (De bägge rosorna: The
Two Roses) [1:19]
No. 3: Valkovuokko (Vitsippan: The Wood
No. 4: Vuokko (Sippan: The Primrose) [1:03]
No. 5: Villiruusu (Törnet: The Thorn) [2:17]
No. 6: Kukkasen (Blommans öde: The Flower’s
Narsissi (Narciss: Narcissus), JS 140 [2:17]
Hymn to Thaïs, the Unforgettable [2:03]
* World Première Recording
(tenor); Jouni Somero (piano);
rec. Sellosali, Espoo, Finland, 28–30 July, 1,
13-14 August 2005. DDD
Jean Sibelius’s hundred-odd songs, the majority are settings
of Swedish poems. Only a handful are in Finnish, which after
all was his second language. There are also a number in German
and a couple of English settings. While much of the Finnish
master’s orchestral output has been incorporated in the international
standard repertoire – the symphonies and the symphonic poems
at least – his songs have lead a peripheral life on the recital
platforms outside Scandinavia. A handful may be regarded as
fairly well-known, mainly through Nordic singers who have championed
them: Svarta rosor and Säv, säv, susa often appeared
on Jussi Björling’s programmes and he recorded them on several
occasions. There are however many great songs that should be
better known, due to their power and their melodic individuality.
Many of them are rugged, knotty like Finnish birch-trees while
others reveal a warm mind behind the composer’s stern appearance.
Among the songs on this first volume are several of his best
and most often heard but also some rarities. In fact five of
the songs have never been recorded before. They are early essays
from the late 1880s and early 1890s and in two of the cases
– Den första kyssen (tr. 18) and Säv, säv, susa
(tr. 20) – it is interesting to make comparisons with the well-known
settings of the same poems from a decade later by the mature
composer. Long-standing familiarity with these master-pieces
is unfavourable for the assessment of the juvenile products
– ‘juvenile’ used here only as a connotation for ‘not-yet-fully-fledged’,
not alluding to Sibelius’s actual age at the time of composing.
These ‘first-timers’ come out as fumbling efforts and I believe
Sibelius was right in keeping them to himself. As an antithesis
we are also offered the six songs op. 88 from 1917, which are
contemporaneous with his Six Humoresques for violin
and orchestra. These, as well as one of his last songs, Narsissi,
from 1925, roughly from the time of his seventh symphony, although
set to Swedish poems, are performed in Finnish.
piano parts often require a powerful virtuoso. Sibelius himself
was not a very good pianist – his instrument was the violin
– but he knew what effects he could entice from the instrument.
The pianist on this disc, Jouni Sumero, gives the accompaniments
the full treatment, placing them on singing terms with the vocal
line. Mr Sumero has of course an important career as a soloist
with over 40 recordings to his credit. His contributions are
a great asset to this production. More, in fact, than the singing,
which is unfortunately to a great extent below par. Hannu Jurmu
has impressive credentials, mainly as an operatic tenor. I was
a little surprised when reading the bio in the booklet, having
listened to a number of the songs, that his repertoire doesn’t
include roles like Manrico and Radames, since that is the sound-world
his delivery most often suggests.
at several sessions during a period spanning a fortnight his
indisposition may have varied but at least in the first songs
on the disc he sings with considerable strain, raw, unsophisticated
tone, clumsy phrasing and hesitant intonation. In Svarta
rosor (tr. 4) his intentions are good but the execution
leaves much to be desired. The last line offers impressive heroic
singing but the notes don’t grow organically out of what has
gone before, they just stick out, purposeless and grating.
was beginning to despair when suddenly came Säv, säv, susa,
where he scales down and sings softly, revealing a mellifluous
mezzo forte. This is one of the best readings. Lastu lainehilla
is another song where he keeps the volume down to good effect.
Singing in Finnish he seems to get closer to the kernel of the
text. That also goes for Souda, souda, sinisorsa. I wish
he had resorted to this agreeable part of his voice more often.
also sounds uncomfortable in the four songs in German (trs.
12–15): four-square and wayward. All of them are however rather
second-rate Sibelius, with the possible exception of Die
stille Stadt. Of the early songs Orgier (tr. 19)
is an orgy in shouting and roaring, but En visa (tr.
17) from 1888 is sung simply and with much freer voice. The
first Säv, säv, susa (tr. 20) and Soluppgång (tr.
21) also find him in good shape with beautiful timbre, a real
ring to the top notes and practically free from all signs of
strain. They must have been recorded on a particularly good
day, possibly the same as Kukkasen kohtalo (tr. 28),
which, inwardly and beautifully sung, is one of the readings
I shall want to return to. Narsissi (tr. 29) is also
among his best efforts. The only English song on the disc, Hymn
to Thaïs brings the recital to a good end.
recorded sound is excellent and the reproduction of the piano
does full justice to Jouni Sumero’s playing. We have to make
do without the sung texts but Keith Anderson provides good liner-notes.
I wonder how many he has produced on practically all genres
and epochs through the years.
is a recital with ups and downs and unfortunately the ups are
in the minority. The Swedish popular singer Sven-Olof Sandberg,
who in the 1930s was the best-selling recording artist in the
country, at the end of the decade decided to train his voice
under professional tuition. He went to the renowned Scottish
tenor Joseph Hislop who resided in Stockholm and amongst whose
pupils were Jussi Björling and Birgit Nilsson. After the audition
Hislop said: “Mr Sandberg, your voice is like a dunghill!” When
the singer stood up to leave he added: “But on top of that hill
there grows a tender flower. This flower we are going to take
care of.” So he did and a couple of years later Mr Sandberg
could make his debut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Mr Jurmu’s
flower has already been tended by excellent teachers with good
results – as his CV tells us – but during these recording sessions
it was allowed to blossom in its full splendour only intermittently.
I am afraid this isn’t enough to allow a recommendation but
I dearly hope I will get an opportunity to hear him again when
that splendour is more consummate. In the meantime I advise
readers to search out three lower-voiced Finnish singers, whose
recordings of Sibelius give a more relevant picture of his greatness:
gorgeous warm-toned bass Kim Borg made an LP for DG in the late
1950s with Erik Werba at the piano. A decade ago it was released,
together with other recordings, both opera and song, on a 3-CD
set by Finlandia. On the same label both Tom Krause and Jorma
Hynninen have recorded various songs by Sibelius. Krause, although
recorded when he was nearing 60, is deeply involved and involving.
Much earlier he recorded the complete Sibelius songs for Decca,
with Elisabeth Söderström singing the ones best suited for the
female voice. It was released on CD not too long ago. A thrillingly
vibrant Sibelius disc is also available on Naxos, though possibly
never released outside Scandinavia, with one-time Cardiff Lieder
Prize Winner Kirsi Tiihonen. For those who can stand a tension
comparable to a nuclear power station this is a find. BIS, who
have recorded more Sibelius than any other company, also have
two discs with his songs with two of the great Nordic mezzos:
Anne Sofie von Otter and Monica Groop. One can’t go wrong with
any of these.
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