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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Night Ride and Sunrise, Op. 55 (1908) [16:38]
Pan and Echo (Tanz-Intermezzo No. 3), Op. 53a (1906) [4:51]
Suite from Belshazzar’s Feast, Op. 51 (1907) [14:31]
Two Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 45:  The Dryad (1910) [5:46]; Tanz-Intermezzo (1904/1907) [2:51]
Kuolema (Death), Op.44 and Op. 62 (1903 and 1911) [19:57]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 29 July-1 August 2007.  DDD
NAXOS 8.570763 [64:34] 
Experience Classicsonline

This is one terrific disc!  On the basis of this alone - and I gather from the reviews I’ve read of the first installment in his Sibelius series - Pietari Inkinen is a Sibelian of the first order.  The young conductor, born in 1980, has the New Zealand Symphony playing its collective hearts out for him and the recorded sound is superb.  Not only a “bargain of the month,” but a “disc of the month” at any price!  For the most part, this is a collection of lesser-known works of the composer that truly deserve this kind of exposure.  The one “chestnut,” Valse Triste from Kuolema, receives a sensitive performance that makes the piece sound fresh minted. 

The disc begins with one of Sibelius’ greatest poems, Night Ride and Sunrise.  Heretofore my favorite recording was the one by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Horst Stein on Decca.  It had all the excitement that Simon Rattle’s rather tepid account with the Philharmonia - coupled with his outstanding Sibelius Fifth - on EMI lacked, but the brass playing could be a little crass at times.  With Inkinen, you get the best of both worlds.  The “night ride” portion is nearly as exciting as Stein’s and the “sunrise” is much more majestic.  This is now my favorite version. 

The remainder of the disc is not one whit inferior.  The Suite from Belshazzar’s Feast demonstrates that Sibelius could write “exotic” music with the best of them, yet still maintain his unique fingerprints.  His orientalism may not be as extrovert as Nielsen’s in his Aladdin suite, but with its greater subtlety makes the more lasting impression.  Indeed, the second and third movements, Solitude and Night Music offer much in the way of inward beauty and are really haunting.  Likewise, Pan and Echo and The Dryad are examples of the mature Sibelius’ own special brand of impressionism.  The New Zealanders woodwinds in Pan and Echo are ravishing, and the rhythmic pointing is infectious.  The Dryad is like a chip off the Fourth Symphony in its wonderful strangeness, and its oboe and flute solos - beginning at 1:29 and recurring throughout the work - reminded me of Janáček. The second of the Two Pieces shows Sibelius in his “Spanish” mode when its dance turns to cornets and castanets adding local color.  There is a bit of that in The Dryad as well. 

If I had to single out anything dispensable on the disc it would be the last two movements of Kuolema that the composer added later to his incidental music to Järnefelt’s play, which seem less inspired than the other works on the disc.  No matter.  The whole disc merits the highest recommendation for interpretation, performance, and sound.  As usual with Naxos, the presentation and notes are very good, too.

Leslie Wright
see also Reviews by Bob Briggs and Rob Barnett



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