Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphonic Poems and Cantatas
CD 1
Kullervo - symphonic poem for soloists, chorus and orchestra Op.7 (Kalevala) (1892) [78:29]
CD 2
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]
CD 3
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]
CD 4
Snöfrid Op. 29 (1900) [11.23]; Oma Maa Op. 92 (1918) [11.55]; Väinön Virsi Op. 110 (1926) [8.42]; Sandels Op. 28 (1898 rev. 1915) [9.09]; Maan Virsi Op. 95 (1918) [7.41]; Laulu Lemminkäiselle Op. 31 No. 1 (1896) [3.31]; Finlandia Op. 26 (1899) [8.36]
Elemér Lavotha (cello); Jesper Harryson (cor anglais)
Randi Stene (mezzo); Peter Mattei (baritone); Solveig Kringelborn (soprano) - Maiden; Lars-Erik Jonsson (tenor) - Lover; Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo) - Chatelaine; Garry Magee (baritone) - Bailiff;
Ellerhein Girls’ Choir; National Male Choir of Estonia
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. CD 1: Stockholm, 14-19 March 1997; CD 2: Konserthus, Stockholm, February 1996; CD 3: Estonia Concert Hall, Tallin, March 2001; CD 4:. 2-8 September 2002, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6484032 [4 CDs: 78:29 + 73:32 + 67:38 + 61:36]
This is the second time these four well executed Sibelius CDs from Paavo Järvi have been reissued in this format. They first appeared in that collected format and at full price circa 2002. This box is certainly a handsome and compact alternative to those intimidated by the breadth of the gloriously exhaustive Bis Edition. As for the coverage it’s by no means a case of all the usual suspects.
Standing aside from the symphonies, chamber music, songs and piano music the four discs move from the famous to the neglected. Fame is represented by Finlandia but in an edition with choir, Valse Triste and Pelleas and Melisande. The now better known Kullervo and Lemminkainen Legends are early but stunning works. Sadly the one act opera is a low key affair with little of the red meat one might have expected from the operatic heat generated in the exchanges of male and female leads in Kullervo. Of the works of Sibelius’s maturity Oma Maa should not be overlooked; neither should an adventurous couple of tone poems: Nightride and Sunrise and Luonnotar. It would have been good to have heard Paavo Järvi in Pohjola’s Daughter, Oceanides and En Saga.
This very emphatic Kullervo is characterised by tight etching of themes and fine attention to dynamics and tempi. In Kullervo’s Youth this is very telling indeed. Järvi lets no detail pass without attention - often fresh and with touching nuance as in the breathtaking violin shimmer in Kullervo’s death. The brass benches are memorable for bite and bitter. The two soloists are satisfying indeed and the choir has precision and thudding impact. Among the not numerous budget price Kullervos this one stands superior.
Järvi’s Nightride and Sunrise launches with rapid pacing. Even so the Stockholm Phil remain surefooted - never collapsing into a gabble. The ‘slo-mo’ sunrise is lovingly caressed. Luonnotar is a brother under the skin to The Bard and the Fourth Symphony. It rejoices in understatement yet contrasts this with the volatile conflagration of an operatic scena. Its ruthlessly testing demands are stylishly met by Kringelborn with damsel freshness and coruscating flamboyance. The Lemminkainen Suite is good middle-of-the-road. It attains better than good in that Cinderella work, Lemminkainen in Tuonela which in this reading has never registered so strongly. It's possibly the finest recorded performance I have heard. There's a meditative Swan and a rasping Lemminkainen's Return which is taken mainstream-fast rather than hell-for-leather. The first Legend is effective and well shaped - a shade more objective than romantic.

Jungfrun i tornet here receives its second recording - the first being the clear but by comparison slightly enclosed recording on Bis. The Bis is not 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 younger-sounding than Häggänder. Just lend an ear to the rustling and tense start of scene 3 which is redolent of Karelian bustle and nocturnal adventure.
Pélléas and Mélisande: A potent At the Castle Gate; an understated Melisande with Tonis Traksmann's nicely bleached cor anglais. The eerie atmosphere of Mélisande at the spinning wheel is well communicated. By a spring and Pastorale are lissom and suitably insouciant although Entr'acte is pushed a little too hard for comfort. The Death of Mélisande is 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 caringly done.
Snöfrid pleasingly sets a Swedish text by Viktor Rydberg for female orator and mixed choir. Its saga subject has temptress trolls, a storm - evoked in the first few minutes - and a defiant hero. The women's voices have a most agreeable recorded presence. Just before they enter there’s a startlingly familiar gesture from the Second Symphony. The pleasing immediacy of the choir also registers in the lovely roundedness of Oma Maa which is concerned with evocations of Midnight Sun. The music becomes increasingly devotional with its invocation and praise centring on nature and the sun. If you think in terms of the glowing choral version of Rakastava yet with an added vibrancy then you are not far amiss in understanding this piece. Väinön virsi is a late work keyed into the idiom of the 1890s. The subject is from the Kalevala where Väinämöinen prays to Jumala, the Creatrix, for protection, strength and harvests. This is more dramatically drawn than Oma Maa and in the background the clink of Väinämöinen's forge can be heard as the singing rises to the glowing sun-dazzled heights. Maan Virsi deploys mixed chorus. The zither-like kantele is evoked by pizzicato writing. A relaxed serenade at 3.51 delightfully ushers in the returning choir. This is classically poised Sibelius rising to the best structured climactic statement on this last disc (5.48). Sandels was composed in Berlin and is named after General Sandels (1764-1831). The music starts out as jaunty storytelling with jolly clarinet solo work (tr. 4, 2.49) but from 4.38 Sibelius brings his sharply-focused imagination to bear on the battle scene with many memorable orchestral touches. It ends with brass ‘barks’ reminiscent of Finlandia. Just occasionally his choral writing veers into school song jollity but usually the treatment swerves back into fresher material before too much damage is done. Both Snöfrid and Sandels are termed 'improvisations'. Laulu Lemminkäiselle is robustly cheerful and strongly rhythmic - well within the stirring Scandinavian male choral tradition and related in style to Karelia's Alla marcia. Finally comes the stirringly done choral (men's voices) version of Finlandia.
The present box despite absence of printed texts makes an apt and irresistible collection further enhanced by bargain price.


Rob Barnett
An apt and irresistible collection enhanced by bargain price.

Previous reviews of these discs

CD 1
CD 2 and 3
CD 3
CD 4