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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
CD1
Nightride and Sunrise Op. 55 (1907) [14:41]
Luonnotar Op. 70 (1913) [9:18]
Legends (Lemminkäinen Suite) Op. 22 (I. Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island [17:08]; II. Swan of Tuonela [9:49]; III. Lemminkäinen in Tuonela [15:54]; IV. Lemminkäinen's Return [6:32]) (1895-6) [49:23]
Solveig Kringelborn (soprano); Elemér Lavotha (cello); Jesper Harryson (cor anglais)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
CD2
Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the tower): one act in overture and eight scenes (1895-6) [36:39]
Pelléas et Mélisande- incidental music Op. 46 (At the Castle Gate [2:47]; Mélisande [3:49]; At the Sea [1:59]; By a spring in the park [2:12]; The three blind sisters [2:08]; Pastorale [1:52]; Mélisande at the spinning wheel [2:03]; Entr'acte [2:53]; The death of Mélisande [6:01]) (1905) [25:48]
Valse triste Op. 44 No. 1 (1903) [4:47]
Solveig Kringelborn (soprano) - Maiden; Lars-Erik Jonsson (tenor) - Lover; Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo) - Chatelaine; Garry Magee (baritone) - Bailiff; Ellerhein Girls’ Choir; Estonian National Male Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. CD1: Konserthus, Stockholm, Feb 1996; CD2: Estonia Concert Hall, Tallin, March 2001.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5220552 [73:32 + 67:38]
Experience Classicsonline

This set is an amalgamation of two earlier separately issued Virgin CDs: CD 1 dating from 1996 -  twice issued by Virgin on VM5 45213-2 and VM5 61847-2. CD2 first appeared in 2002. These Sibelius works sport a generous number of recordings in the CD catalogue apart from the lesser known The Maiden in the Tower.
 
Nightride and Sunrise is a tone poem exhibiting energetic writing in a tripping measure. Perhaps I expected more believable light and shade in orchestral colour earlier in the piece. That element of romantic tranquillity is largely missed through the heavy orchestration of the score, which is no reflection on the interpretation. In his sunrise, Sibelius had the fire of the formidable atomic processes that take place on the Sun more in mind than any increasing sun-drenched warmth.

Luonnotar is a nine minute soprano piece set in folk-song idiom. Written, unusually, as a commission for a Finnish soprano (Aino Ackté) it was first performed at the Gloucester Festival, and here demonstrates the versatility and wide register of Kringelborn.
 
The Lemminkäinen Suite is a rich score with an elegant structure based on four Finnish legends. Järvi gets the best out of his orchestra who respond with agility and memorable emotional flow. The brass, horns particularly, carry the energy of the first part of the Suite and do so with verve. A crisp delicacy of treatment of the second part - that to me carries more than a hint of Liszt’s Les Préludes - is enchanting and adds to the success of the performance. I enjoyed the power and fervent playing of the strings in the fourth part of the Suite.

The Maiden in the Tower is set to a thin libretto by Rafael Hertzberg. Written for a charity event, this obscure work made little impact at its Helsinki first performance. Its slender melodramatic plot hinges on a young peasant girl, abducted by a Lord’s Bailiff and imprisoned in the castle tower until an attempt to rescue her by a Lover takes place. The role of the chorus (Soldiers and Villagers?) is unclear. Sibelius intended to revise its structure yet maintain its dark undercurrents, but never got round to doing so. Consequently, the work had little exposure following the Helsinki premiere. The short overture is charming and picturesque and provides a contrast with the stronger melodramatic themes that follow. To me, this is an impressive opening that I would have liked to have heard more of: Sibelius in one of his brightest moods. But then the clouds gather in the first vocal number. Plaintive cries for help by the Maiden come across in Kringelborn’s singing as she soars with effortless energy in minor key. The other singers and chorus give sterling complementary performances. For a ‘lover’, the tenor’s pieces are written far too heavily in the Wagnerian style and do not contrast sufficiently with the sombre weight of the Chatelaine and the Bailiff’s roles. Maybe it was here that Sibelius was considering his intended revision, but I don’t think his opinions were recorded.
 
Apart from the advancement of plot in the vocal numbers, a considerable amount of incidental music exists in the eight scenes that would have been synchronized to stage action at the time of performance. What a pity that the stage directions are missing from the CD booklet as an extra mental dimension to the experience of listening could have been added. Likewise, the scenes (as separate tracks) carry no description in either the booklet or the CD track descriptors, not even their location.
 
Pelléas et Mélisande needs no introduction and is here presented with clarity and dynamism. There are places where certain sections of the orchestra are not always in step with each other, however. In the Pastorale in particular, the bassoon/horn chords tend to be sluggish. The wind are ideally placed on the sound-stage and the cellos are particularly warm and rich in timbre. The only sections that tend to get lost are the violas and second violins. The Estonian Concert Hall gives a flattering acoustic that is not lost in this recording.
 
Compare with review notes of some of these pieces on the ‘Essential Sibelius’ (BIS) (see review).
 
Since this is a reissue, a little more effort could have been put into expanding the short CD notes which appear in English, French and German.
 
Raymond Walker

see also review by Rob Barnett  


 

 


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