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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
CD1 [73:32]
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 [67:38]
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; originally released Virgin Classics: CD 1: VC5452132, 1996; CD 2: VC 5454932, 2002.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5220552 [73:32 + 67:38]
Experience Classicsonline

In the last two decades Virgin Classics pinned their Sibelius hopes on Paavo Järvi (b. 1962, Tallinn). They issued a pair of discs in each decade. The first, from 1996, is the same as CD 1 in this set; the second, in 1997, featured Kullervo (VC5452922 reissued as VC3913632). The Lemminkainen disc has been bargain-reissued previously and before that in a rare and now dizzyingly high priced double boxed set with Järvi’s Kullervo. In 2002 came a coupling identical to CD2 followed in 2003 by the cantatas (VC5455612; VC 5455892). Since then the flow has dried up. I keep wondering whether Virgin will surprise collectors by inviting Järvi back to Stockholm or Tallinn to record The Oceanides, The Bard, Pohjola’s Daughter, En Saga and Tapiola. For now he is very much a house conductor for Telarc. To date he has steered clear of a cycle of the symphonies although he did record the Second with Tubin 5 for Telarc. Speaking of which his discography reveals an admirable adherence to composers from the Baltic and Scandinavia: Stenhammar (BIS, Virgin), Sumera (BIS), Nystroem (BIS), Tüür (BIS, EMI) and Tubin (Telarc).
Järvi launches Nightride and Sunrise with a quicker than usual pace. Even so the Stockholm Phil remain surefooted and are they tested! It never collapses into a gabble. The bipartite structure is accentuated by the contrast provided by a lovingly caressed slow-motion Sunrise. An exciting reading then but one of exhilarating extremes. The Nightride more than usually recalls the inspirational trigger which was a train journey not a nocturnal canter. In Järvi's company this inventive tone poem could link quite happily with two other train-inspired pieces: Honegger's Pacific 231 and the scherzo of the Moeran Symphony. This is a version to return to and an alternative to Horst Stein (Decca) and more recently Vänskä (BIS). Not to be forgotten among the welter of Sibelius releases.
Luonnotar has the spareness and inventive tension of The Bard and the Fourth Symphony. It's a score that rejoices in understatement yet contrasts this with the volatile conflagration of an operatic scena. Its ruthlessly testing demands are adroitly and stylishly met by Kringelborn with élan, damsel freshness and coruscating flamboyance. Place this in the same company as Helen Juntunen (Vänskä, BIS) Valjakka (Berglund, EMI), Isokoski (Ondine) and Häggänder (Bis) rather than the more florid contralto-ish qualities of Phyllis Bryn-Julson for Bernstein (Sony-CBS), Gwyneth Jones for Dorati (EMI) or Soderstrom (afflicted with a debilitating wobble) for Ashkenazy (Decca). The leaflet does not provide the words or translation.
This is followed by a good middle-of-the-road Lemminkainen Suite. It attains better than good in that Cinderella work, Lemminkainen in Tuonela which in this reading has never registered so strongly. It receives a very romantic reading from Järvi yet does not short-change you in terms of panic and oppressive catastrophic atmosphere. It's possibly the finest recorded performance I have heard and it took me aback. There's a suitably meditative Swan and a rasping Lemminkainen's Return which is taken mainstream-fast rather than at the hell-for-leather rate at which Beecham takes it. The first Legend is effective and well shaped - perhaps a shade more objective than romantic. Of the competition the leader in this field is Ormandy on EMI Classics and also - when it is transferred to CD – the same conductor’s 1950s mono version. But then Ormandy is a stunning Sibelian. Also let's not forget Stein and Vänskä. Less impressive for me is the recentish 1950s Jensen (Eloquence).
Turning to the second CD we change locale to Tallinn and orchestra to the Estonian National. This is Jungfrun i tornet's second recording - the first being the clear but by comparison slightly enclosed recording on Bis. The Bis is not however lightly to be dismissed. It was the first recording of the work and makes a very strong case with the classic Hynninen darker and huskier toned than the admirable but different sound-signature of  Magee. Kringelborn is excellent and again younger-sounding than Häggänder. The prelude says it all with its intimate and nuanced sound, intrinsic vitality and Straussian headiness. Järvi fils elicits more wit than Järvi père for Bis. Rather as with his Lemminkainen in Tuonela Järvi fils  makes this piece really sing. The music constantly intrigues and engages the listener. It's not top drawer Sibelius but it's not far off - just lend an ear to the rustling and tense start of scene 3 which is redolent of Karelian bustle and nocturnal adventure. The timings are little different: Paavo - 36:39; 35:15 - Neeme.
From maidens in towers to Pélléas et Mélisande is not a large step. We are treated by Järvi to a potent At the Castle Gate and an understated Melisande with Tonis Traksmann's nicely bleached cor anglais. By the Seashore is less oleaginously threatening than Stokowski in his recently issued recording with the Helsinki City Orchestra (Guild, 1953 concert). The eerie atmosphere of Mélisande at the spinning wheel is well communicated. By a spring, Entr'acte and Pastorale are cool, lissom and suitably insouciant although the Entr'acte is pushed a little too hard for comfort. The Death of Mélisande is touching and autumn cool in its stately auburn finery. From this mood it is a small step to the wan endearment and shared confidences of Valse Triste which is again caringly done.
These works are all superbly recorded in lively yet warm acoustics and apart from lacking the last gramme of sable weight in the strings the orchestras do Järvi and Sibelius handsomely. 
Imaginative and far from faceless readings in well rendered engineering. If this grouping of works appeals then go for it. Probably the best Lemminkainen in Tuonela and the preferred version of the opera.
Rob Barnett


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