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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Sibelius Edition - Volume 9 - Chamber Music II
Pieces for string duos and trios, cello and piano, piano quintet, kantele, brass ensemble
Jyrki Lasonpalo (violin); Laura Vikman (violin); Jaakko Kuusisto (violin); Nobuko Imai (viola); Anna Kreetta Gribajcevic (viola); Torleif Thedéen (cello); Taneli Turunen (cello); Joel Laakso (cello); Eero Munter (double-bass); Suvi Lehtonen-Gräsbeck (kantele); Lasse Pöysti (narrator); Monica Groop (mezzo); Roland Pöntinen (piano); Folke Gräsbeck (piano); brass partout
rec. 1996-2009, Finland; Sweden. DDD
Detailed track-listing at end of review
5 CDs for the price of 3
BIS-CD-1924-26 [5 CDs: 420:03] 
Experience Classicsonline

It seems that the timetables to accomplish all major projects slip. That applies whether they are building, civil engineering or artistic endeavours. According to early publicity from Bis the present set was intended for release in June this year. The other volumes will no doubt follow but here they are listed with their original planned dates:-
Volume 10 Choir a cappella Soloists, Jubilate Choir, Dominante Choir, YL Male Voice Choir and Orphei Drängar Sept. 2009
Volume 11 Piano Music II Folke Gräsbeck Dec. 2009
Volume 12 Symphonies (including fragments) Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä March 2010
Volume 13 Miscellaneous (incl. organ works and the Masonic Music) Various March 2010

We can perhaps expect to see the final volumes appear in the Summer of 2011.

The delay hardly matters. It is enough that the Edition is happening at all. And that is down to the vision and determination of Robert von Bahr. Hardly less remarkable is that each set is offered at what amounts to a price between the bargain and mid ranges.

Sibelius’s production of chamber music was prodigious - and not only in his teens and twenties. Those who have stayed with the Edition set by set know of his quartets and piano trios from volume 2 and of his output for violin and piano from box 6. The present volume addresses the remainder of his chamber output. The territory takes in such unexpected areas as the music fore brass ensemble, solo kantele, incidental music and even melodrama.

The picturesque Vattendroppar - amongst his earliest mss - is familiar as a piano solo from box 4 but is here heard for two violins. The Andante and Andantino for cello and piano are each fluently rounded and convincing pieces touched with the rich colours of romanticism between Schubert and Chopin. The Serenata for two violins and cello seems to drift between the gracious melodies of Wien and Napoli but even in 1887 we hear Sibelius trademarks - the ostinato uplift for a well-weighed melody and touches that recall the solo part in the Violin Concerto. The variety of the catalogue offers something for most solo players and often with gifts of greta intuition thrown in. The 21 year old composer offers a 13 minute Theme and Variations for solo cello as well as some other shorter solos. The Theme and Variations has not entirely escaped the ghosts of Bach and Beethoven. Sibelius built his writing with even greater distinction in the solo cello Fantasia of 1889. Three andante movements from 1888-89 for cello and piano already attain a degree of individuality and begin to rise from the conventions of the time. A Suite for string trio, in four movements, at times has the febrile qualities of the best incidental music, a recognisably gracious pointed hesitancy although clearly rooted in the urbanely captivating haunts of bar, café and street culture. That milieu exercised a strong and ultimately malign draw on the young composer. It can be heard again in the 1891 Minuet for violin and cello and the Duo for violin and viola.

The Andante-Allegro for piano quintet rises with Franckian intensity to peer towards the Humoresques and the Second Symphony. Maturing at a breathlessly rate Sibelius’s little Vivace for piano quintet combines Godowsky’s piano style with a vivacious intoxication. From the same year (1890) his almost 40 minute Piano Quintet was written during his years studying in Berlin. Written after hearing Sinding’s Piano Quintet it is clearly an ambitious watershed statement. It looks to that boiling Franckian intensity last heard in the Andante-Allegro. The shivering and delicately lovely Intermezzo and Scherzo movements provide some beguiling remission from all that superbly sustained emotional tension. The Quintet should be heard if you have a liking for the Chausson Concert or the Piano Quintets of Franck or Korngold. Chamber ensembles should urgently look out this piece. If it seems too forbidding to programme then try out audiences with the Vivace first. The Trio in G minor is a thing of fragments and for me one of the least successful pieces here. Nobuko Imai is joined by Roland Pöntinen for the hummingly active and kinetically singing Rondo from 1893. Malinconia was written in 1900 in the shadow of the death of his infant daughter Kirsti. It combines, in one potent 12 minute movement, a sense of malign forces allied with grief. It’s dedicated to the cellist-conductor Georg Schnéevoigt who made an early recording of the Sixth Symphony.

The music for brass ensemble is little known except perhaps for Tiera. The Overture is in the form of a casually sauntering moto perpetuo predominantly of the type for park bandstands. The Allegro is a more noble creation. The Andante and Minuet in its two panels encompasses nobility and bourgeois pandering - charm never in short supply. The 4 minute Förspel sounds ready made for brass band championships with its combination of bubbling confidence and hymn-like steadiness. All these works are from the amazingly productive years of 1889-91. Tiera and the March are from eight years later. Tiera has a Spartan majesty about it which points to the rhetoric of the Second Symphony and the gaunt introduction to Finlandia. The slow-step March is an unassuming little piece. The chosen ensemble is brass partout.

Then again there are works struggling to find a category. The 15 minute Melodrama from Runeberg’s ‘Nights of Jealousy’ is for narrator, vocalising soprano and piano trio. Lasse Pöysti is the orator - but more intimate confider than hortator. The tremblingly expectant and shimmering music forms a blissful complement to his spoken voice, to Runeberg’s poem of lost love and to the dream of its recapture. Magical stuff and unlike anything I know. The words are printed in the spoken Swedish and English translation. The two metallically chiming little pieces for the bell-like solo kantele are played by Suvi Lehtonen-Gräsbeck. The kantele is joined by the violin for the silvery and somehow nostalgic little Waltz. Ödlan (The Lizard) is a play by Mikael Lybeck. Across 17:05 and two ‘scenes’ we hear Sibelius’s incidental music for the drama. It’s for solo violin and a small string quintet comprising a standard string quartet plus double-bass. Written between the Third and Fourth Symphonies it bears the overcast intensity - even torment - of the latter symphony - the equivalent of film noir. For future reference if you need to group works this should be on the same page as the Fourth, The Bard, Tapiola and Luonnotar. We might well know the Two Serious Melodies (Cantique - Laetare anima mea and Devotion - Ab imo pectore) op. 77 (1914-15) from their versions for violin and orchestra (or piano). They stand between the Humoresques and the Serenades - more soulful and spiritual than the skitteringly irresistible Humoresques and more animated than the two Serenades. The cello suits their demeanour well. The Four Pieces op. 78 for cello and piano allow some salon relaxation after the head-bowed reverence of the Serious Melodies. After these on the fifth and final disc come two interesting little appendices - a viscous alternative Variation IV for the Theme and Variations of 1887 and a variant of bar 23 of the G minor Mazurka of 1889.

Throughout the playing is of such quality and richness that any fears about starved tone and what some might fear is a purely academic project are allayed. The central players Kuusisto, Thedéen (a mite breathy) and Gräsbeck keep such fears at bay and must have had to give up much of their music-making careers to create such pleasing and riveting results.

In common with its predecessors this volume is presented in an over-width box in which the five discs and dumpy booklet with full annotation rattle around - the price of bulk purchase economies I expect and of little consequence. Unlike its brethren it presents a larger than usual contingent of premiere recordings. A plain white sleeve houses each disc. The cover design of the box is uniform with the other volumes. Those two swans, the morning lake and pine trees are by now iconic among Sibelians. Less obvious perhaps is the well-judged sequence in which the Edition has been issued. The inevitably more commercially attractive orchestra and vocal sets have been alternated with the superficially less appealing chamber and piano solo formats; there is always something to look forward to.

There’s very little here that is familiar. Much of it is early but everywhere discoveries abound. True Sibelians will already have ordered the set. It maintains the standards of presentation, scholarship and liberated delight attained by its predecessors.

Rob Barnett 

The BIS Sibelius Edition reviewed on MusicWeb International
Vols 1-5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7 Vol. 8
BIS Sibelius review page (including reviews of single CDs)

Detailed track-listing 
CD 1 [58:14]:
1. Vattendroppar (Water Drops), JS216 (for cello and piano) 0'45
2. Luftslott (Castles in the Air), Duo for two violins, JS65 4'34
3. Andantino in C major, JS40 (for cello and piano) 2'46
4. Andante molto in F minor, JS36 (for cello and piano) 5'21
5. Serenata, JS169 (for two violins and cello) 1'05
Menuetto and Allegro, JS128 (for two violins and cello)
6. Menuetto - Adagio molto - Coda. Più lento 3'22
7. Allegro con espressione 5'23
8. Tempo di valse in G minor, JS193 (for cello and piano) 4'11
9. [Duo] in E minor, JS68 (for violin and cello) 2'18
10. [Theme and Variations] in D minor, JS196 (for solo cello) 12'55
11. [Lento] in E flat minor, JS76 (for cello and piano) 1'46
12. Moderato in F major (for solo cello) 4'33
13. [Mazurka] in G minor (for solo cello) 1'17

CD 2 [56:34]:
1. [Andante] in B minor, JS91 (for cello and piano) 2'40
2. [Andantino] in B minor, JS92 (for cello and piano) 5'29
3. Andante molto in B minor (for cello and piano) 3'13
4. Andante - Allegro, JS31 (for piano quintet) 8'49
6. Andantino in A major (for string trio) 2'15
Suite in A major, JS186 (for string trio)
7. I. Prélude. Vivace 2'13
8. II. Andante con moto 3'21
9. III. Menuetto 4'10
10. V. Gigue. Allegretto 1'55
Fantasia, JS79 [for cello and piano (piano part lost)]
11. I. Moderato - Vivo - Tempo I - Presto - Tempo I 4'10
12. II. Tempo di valse. Moderato 1'49
13. III. Alla polacca 4'20
14. IV. Alla Marcia - attacca - 4'40
15. V. Leggiero 1'55
16. Adagio in F sharp minor, JS15 (for cello and piano) 0'49
17. Tempo di valse (‘Lulu Waltz’) in F sharp minor, JS194 (for cello and piano) 0'54

CD 3 [62:07]:
1. Overture in F minor, JS146 (for brass ensemble) 8'18
2. Allegro, JS25 (for brass ensemble and triangle) 4'26
Andantino and Minuet, JS45 (for brass ensemble)
3. Andantino 3'11
4. Menuetto 1'38
5. Vivace (for piano quintet) 4'18
Piano Quintet in G minor, JS 159
6. I. Grave - Allegro 10'53
7. II. Intermezzo. Moderato 5'19
8. III. Andante 9'20
9. IV. Scherzo. Vivacissimo 3'20
10. V. Moderato - Vivace 9'40

CD 4 [60:31]:
1. [Minuet] in F major (for violin and cello) 3'08
2. Förspel (Preludium), JS83 (for brass ensemble and triangle) 3'55
3. Duo, JS66 (for violin and viola) 5'10
4. Melodram ur ”Svartsjukans nätter” (Melodrama from ‘Nights of Jealousy’), JS125 14'51
Trio in G minor, JS210 (for violin, viola and cello)
5. I. Lento 7'59
6. II. Allegro (fragment) 0'52
7. III. [no tempo marking] (fragment) 3'10
8. Rondo in D minor, JS162 (for viola and piano) 6'05
9. Canon in D minor (for violin, viola and cello) 0'36
10. Moderato, JS130 (for kantele) 3'45
11. Dolcissimo, JS63 (for kantele) 2'14
12. [Waltz] (Kehtolaulu / Lullaby), JS222 (for violin and kantele) 1'11
13. Tiera, JS200 (for brass ensemble and percussion) 4'19
14. [March] (for brass ensemble and percussion) 0'59

CD 5 [53:42]:
1. Malinconia, Op.20 (for cello and piano) 12'18
Ödlan (The Lizard), Op.8 (for solo violin and string ensemble)
2. Scene No.1. Adagio - Più adagio 2'43
3. Scene No.2. Grave - Adagio 14'12
Two Serious Melodies, Op.77 (for cello and piano)
4. I. Cantique (Laetare anima mea) 5'02
5. II. Devotion (Ab imo pectore) 3'40
Four Pieces, Op.78 (for cello and piano)
6. I. Impromptu 1'47
7. II. Romance in F major 3'04
8. III. Religioso 4'54
9. IV. Rigaudon 1'56
from [Theme and Variations] in D minor, JS 196 (for solo cello)
10. Variation IV with alternative version of bar 81 0'42
11. [Mazurka] in G minor [for solo cello (with alternative version of bar 23)] 1'15  



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