Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Säv, säv, susa (Sigh, sedges, sigh). Op. 36, No. 4 (1900)* [2:44]
Vänskapens blomma (Flower of friendship), Op. 57 No. 7 (1909) [2:55]
Demanten på marssnön (Diamonds on the March snow), Op. 36 No. 6 (1900)* [2:56]
Svarta rosor (Black roses), Op. 36 No. 1 (1899) [2:13]
Den första kyssen (The first kiss), Op. 37 No. 1 (1900) [2:20]
Lastu lainehilla (Driftwood), Op. 17 No. 7 (1902)** [1:20]
Hymni Thaisille (Hymn to Thais), JS 97 (1909) [1:33]
Kolme sokeaa sisarta (Three blind sisters), Op. 46 No. 4 (1904-1905)* [3:04]
Kom nu hit, död (Come away, death), Op. 60 No. 1 (1909)* [2:34]
Hållilå, uti storm och i regn (Hey ho, the wind and the rain), Op. 60 No. 2 (1909)* [1:00]
På verandan vid havet (On a balcony by the sea), Op. 38 No. 2 (1903) [3:27]
Serenad (Serenade), JS 168 (1895) [5:00]
Soi kiitokseksi Luojan (Sing out and praise the Lord), Op. 23 No. 6a (1897)** [1:50]
Cantique: Laetare anima mea (Praise the Lord, my soul), Op. 77 No. 1 (1914)* ** [5:10]
Devotion: Ab imo pectore (From the bottom of my heart), Op. 77 No. 2 (1915)** [3:29]
Längtan heter min arvedel (Longing is my heritage), Op. 86 No. 2 (1916)* [2:47
Illalle (To evening) Op. 17 No. 6 (1891) [1:40]
Laulu ristilukista (The song of the cross spider), Op. 27 No. 4 (1898)* [3:49]
Jorma Hynninen (baritone)
Kalevi Kiviniemi (organ)
*Laura Hynninen (harp)
**Marko Ylönen (cello)
rec. August 2007, Leppävirta Church, Finland
FUGA 9264 [52:12]

The Finnish organist Kalevi Kiviniemi has already given us a complete recording of Sibelius’s œuvre for organ - review - and here he tackles some of the songs in arrangements for voice, organ, harp and cello. Most listeners will probably know these in their original guises - either for voice and piano or voice and orchestra - but the combination of instruments on this recording certainly makes for an interesting alternative. It’s a home-grown affair, Kiviniemi joined here by fellow Finns Jorma Hynninen - who I remember most vividly as a fine Macbeth at Savonlinna some years ago - Laura Hynninen and Marko Ylönen; the latter very much a stalwart of the Bis Sibelius Edition. As usual with these Fuga issues the recording is masterminded by Mika Koivusalo, whose organ recordings have set new standards for this repertoire.

The works collected here cover the early part of Sibelius’s career, from around 1895 to 1916, the poets ranging from Maeterlinck to Shakespeare, all translated into Finnish. Texts are not given, but the song titles and ‘thumbnails’ give one a fairly good idea of their content. The recital opens with Sigh, sedges sigh, the first of two items from the Six Songs, Op. 36. It’s delightful, the harp and organ combining to create a pleasing, almost orchestral, amplitude. Jorma Hynninen sings with warmth and intelligence, although the surging and rather powerful organ accompaniment in Black roses does stretch him to the limit.

The dominant organ part in Flower of friendship, from Eight Songs, Op. 57, is just as challenging for him, but at least this setting allows him to make the most of his more expressive - and more secure - middle and lower voice. This does highlight questions of balance, though, and some listeners may feel the artists are placed much too far forward. It’s a similar situation on Fuga’s festive disc - review - and while this closeness isn’t unpleasant it can be a little fatiguing if you’re listening to this all in one sitting. That said, the songs are varied enough, Diamonds on the March snow distinguished by some wonderfully fluid, if somewhat oversized, sounds from the harp, Driftwood by some eloquent cello playing from Marko Ylönen. What a pity that he struggles to be heard over the organ at times.

The Hymn to Thaïs is a splendidly sonorous affair, singer and organist more evenly matched, Maeterlinck’s Three blind sisters prefaced by some lovely, meditative harp figures. Again, the latter favours Hynninen’s lower and middle registers and he sings with great feeling throughout, the organ relegated to a more distant murmur. The original guitar accompaniment to the two Twelfth Night settings, Come away, Death and Hey ho, the wind and the rain, is very well carried over into the harp writing; indeed, in the latter the harp sounds remarkably like a mandolin. All very different from the brooding intensity of On a balcony by the sea, the organ offering a wider range of colours than we’ve encountered thus far. Jorma Hynninen is at his most expressive here, even rising to the big moments with aplomb.

That contrasts nicely with the nimble, barrel-organ-like accompaniment and higher spirits of Serenade, Kiviniemi careful not to overwhelm the vocalist. And what a strange little postlude, very quirky indeed.

Sing out and praise the Lord and the two Op. 77 settings, Praise the Lord, my soul and From the bottom of my heart, are three devotional pieces, the first and third made more plangent by the addition of the cello. Ylönen is much more easily heard in the second, his playing rich and lyrical alongside the harp and organ. There is no voice here, which tends to emphasise the somewhat exaggerated balance. As lovely as this piece undoubtedly is, it’s apt to sound much too sweet and cloying when it’s heard this close.

Of the last three items the Op. 86 setting Longing is my heritage is one of the most heartfelt, Jorma Hynninen at his ardent best in To evening. The final track, The song of the cross spider, from Sibelius’s King Christian Suite, is perhaps more naturally recorded, the singing and playing very assured indeed. In general, though, the balance remains a matter of taste, and I suspect many listeners might find it all a little overpowering at times. Which is a pity, given that Koivusalo’s organ recordings are so very accomplished. That said, balancing these unusual forces, each with their own powerful musical personality, would tax even the most experienced engineer.

Sonically, then, this not in the same league as Fuga’s organ-only discs, and musically these arrangements don’t always work as well as they might. I doubt anyone would prefer them to the originals - helpfully collected in Volume 7 of BIS’s Sibelius Edition - and I certainly wouldn’t say this is a particularly good example of Kiviniemi’s formidable keyboard skills. Nevertheless, Fuga’s production values are as high as ever, with a good-quality booklet and lucid liner-notes. Think of this disc as a sweet, full-bodied ‘pudding wine’, a postprandial treat best enjoyed in moderation.

Dan Morgan