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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
The Sibelius Edition - Volume 10 – Piano Music II - Original works and piano transcriptions (1905-1931)
Track-listing at end of review
Folke Gräsbeck (piano)
rec. Finland, Sweden 1996-2009. DDD.
5 CDs for the price of 3
BIS BIS-CD-1927-29 [5 CDs: 5:46:17]

Experience Classicsonline

This is the second of two volumes of Sibelius’s piano music. It’s also the tenth volume in the intended complete works of Sibelius. It mixes transcriptions, original works and 14 premiere recordings. The first volume was reviewed here last year.

Bis report that as project completion glows on the horizon Sibelius scholars are intensifying their search for previously unknown material. Robert Von Bahr’s aim remains unshaken: to record ‘every note Sibelius ever wrote’. I wonder if they will be tempted to commission what is likely to be a highly speculative realisation of the Symphony No.8. In any event new manuscripts (not of the symphony) have been unearthed.

Revised preliminary release dates for the final volumes have been adjusted: These currently stand at: 11. Choir a cappella - Soloists, Jubilate Choir, Dominante Choir, YL Male Voice Choir and Orphei Drängar July 2010; 12. Symphonies (including fragments) Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä January 2011; 13. Miscellaneous (incl. organ works and the Masonic Music) Various August 2011.

Among the world première recordings in this box we find an Adagio written for his wife Aino’s birthday in 1931, Sibelius’s last composition for piano – and his only one for piano four-hands. Included also are a number of Sibelius’s transcriptions, mainly of stage music. Among the curiosities is a four minute reworking for the piano of a bell melody written for use at a Helsinki church the building for which was completed in 1912.

In common with its predecessors this volume is in an over-width box in which the five discs and dumpy booklet with full annotation rattle around – the price of bulk purchase economies. A plain white sleeve with transparent window holds 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.

The themed predecessor of this box, released as Volume 4 of the Edition, presented the piano music that Sibelius composed during his youth and in his national romantic period. No matter what the advocacy – and it is fine indeed - this must, rather like volume 1 of the piano works, be more for the fanatical Sibelian rather than the more generally enthusiastic listener.

CD 1 includes the Pelleas suite in transcription by the composer. While the Pastorale is delightful the limitations of the medium are patent with At the Castle Gate. Belshazzar's Oriental Procession and the delicate Khadra's Dance work but while you have the choice why listen ‘in monochrome’. The Ten Pieces op. 58 from 1909 are vivid even if written as potboilers. The tramping Scherzino is particularly good. Written to order for Breitkopf & Härtel they are little more than skilled traversals of the style models of the repertoire. Only the Scherzino and the harmonic excursions of Fisher Song are more than that … just a shade more.

CD 2 delivers pleasure in the a shape of the crystal glass and china of Pan and Echo. The three Sonatinas of 1912 are done and dusted, all three, in 18:21. Their generalised romanticism is pleasant but not striking though I did like the bell-chimes of the Andantino of No. 2. Speaking of bells we hear the chime Sibelius wrote for Kallio church in 1912 - resonant and harmonically engaging. The Scaramouche music is almost expressionist in its starkness. Spagnuolo and Syringa is one of Sibelius's several Hispanic etched essays. I liked Gräsbeck's sensitive way with The Soft West Wind, the second of the Four Lyric Pieces of 1914. The Trees, rather neatly recorded by Annette Servadei on a 5 CD Regis set, are a tender if low key sequences of which I liked the most touching The Spruce. There are world premiere recordings here just as you would expect.

CD 3 starts with Thirteen Pieces op. 76 which are from 1911-1918. The playful and unassuming Romanzetta is a fair example. The frost-glazed Capriccietto of 1914 is great fun - a candidate for pianola roll if ever I heard one. The Daisy is the first of Five Pieces op. 85. The Flowers are like a counterpart to The Trees (1916-17): light in contour and light in content – written to order. The Nouvellette of 1914 is a flighty charmer from Six Pieces op. 94. The Two Pieces for Orcar Parviainen (1919) are world premieres. They break no barriers, push no boundaries; it’s – Grieg, Chopin and early Sibelius again.

CD 4 has its tracks once again in date order. The Humoreske from the op. 97 Six Bagatelles (1920) is more probing but is the only one in the set that prods conventionality. Suite Mignonne and Suite Champêtre subsist on charm. They’re all nicely etched and Sibelius proves that he knows his models and can fill the templates time after time. Time and again one thinks this would not be the place for a potential Sibelian to start his or her expedition of discovery. Next the Five Characteristic Impressions. Of these the Beethovenian The Storm resolutely closes its vocabulary to anything approaching The Tempest. When we reach The Tempest the music and the invention stand high beside the rest. Interesting that Sibelius chooses the least revolutionary of The Tempest movements. This is a case, as with so much else here, of curiosity satisfied but your expectations need to be modestly set.

The fifth and final disc collects the last sparks and flames. The Lonely Ski Trail with narration (familiar from an earlier box where played with orchestra) which for me elevates the atmosphere of the music like a spell. The unassuming Five Esquisses are innocent miniatures within an accustomed idiom. To my beloved Aino is for piano four hands which here enjoys its world premiere recording. It rises to Great Gate of Kiev intensity vigorously belled out. In mournful Mood (tr.18) attain considerable grandeur. Song in the Forest (1929) is strange with its shuddering oddness. These last three items are well worth hearing.

There is nothing to compare with this series. It takes its place alongside such historic LP endeavours as Hungaroton’s complete Bartók, DG’s Beethoven Edition, Haydn’s symphonies (Philharmonia Hungarica), quartets (Aeolian) and sonatas (McCabe) from Decca and Philips’ complete Mozart. There’s very little here that is familiar apart from perhaps the Sonatinas and the music used in the stage transcriptions. True Sibelians will already have ordered the set and will not be disappointed. It maintains the standards of presentation, scholarship and occasional liberated delight attained by its predecessors.

Rob Barnett

The Bis Sibelius Edition reviewed on MusicWeb International

Themed review page including reviews of single CDs

Annette Servadei on Alto (5 CDs)

Track-listing for Volume 10
CD 1 [75:57]
Pelléas och Mélisande (Pelleas and Melisande), Op. 46, Concert Suite (arr. by composer, 1905); Belsazars gästabud (Belshazzar’s Feast), Op. 51, Concert Suite (arr. by composer, 1906-07); Ten Pieces, Op. 58 (1909)
CD 2 [72:42]
Pan and Echo, Op. 53 (arr. by composer, (1907)*; Three Sonatinas, Op. 67: No. 1 in F sharp minor, No. 2 in E major & No. 3 in B flat minor (1912); Two Rondinos, Op. 68: No. 1 in G sharp minor & No. 2 in C sharp minor (1912); Kellosävel Kallion kirkossa (The Bells of Kallio Church), Op. 65b (arr. by composer, 1912); From Scaramouche, Op. 71: Danse élégiaque & Scène d’amour (arr. by composer, 1913-14); Spagnuolo, JS 181 (1913); Till trånaden (To Longing), JS 202 (1913); Four Lyric Pieces, Op. 74: No. 1 Ekloge (Eclogue), No. 2 Sanfter Westwind (Soft West Wind), No. 3 Auf dem Tanzvergnügen (At the Dance) & No. 4 Im alten Heim (In the Old Home) (1914); Five Pieces (‘The Trees’), Op. 75: No. 1 När rönnen blommar (When the Rowan blossoms) (1914), No. 2 Den ensamma furan (The Solitary Fir Tree) (1914), No. 3 Apsen (The Aspen) (1914), No. 4 Björken (The Birch) (1914) & No. 5 Granen (The Spruce) (1914, rev. 1919); Syringa [Op. 75 No. 6] (1914)*;
CD 3 [69:53]
Thirteen Pieces, Op. 76: No. 1 Esquisses (1917), No. 2 Etude (1911), No. 3 Carillon (1914), No. 4 Humoreque (1916), No. 5 Consolation (1919), No. 6 Romanzetta (1914), No. 7 Affettuoso (1917), No. 8 Pièce enfantine (1916), No. 9 Arabesque (1914), No. 10 Elegiaco (1916), No. 11 Linnaea (1918), No. 12 Capriccietto (1914) & No. 13 Harlequinade (1916)
From Jokamies (Jedermann/Everyman), Op. 83 (1916, arr. by composer 1925)*: No. 2 Episodio, Nos. 7-9 Scena, No 4 Canzone; Five Pices (‘The Flowers’), Op. 85: No. 1 Bellis (The Daisy) (1917), No. 2 Oeillet (The Carnation) (1916), No. 3 Iris (The Iris) (1916), No. 4 Aquileja (The Columbine) (1917) & No. 5 Campanula (The Campanula) (1917); Mandolinato, JS 123 (1917); Two Marche: Jääkärien marssi (March of the Finnish Jaeger Batallion), Op. 91a (1917) & Partiolaisten marssi (Scout March), Op. 91b (1918); Six Pieces, Op. 94: No. 1 Danse (1919), No. 2 Nouvellette (1914), No. 3 Sonnet (1919), No. 4 Berger et bergerette (1919), No. 5 Mélodie (1919) & No. 6 Gavotte (1919); Two Pieces for Oscar Parviainen*: Andantino, JS 201 (1919) & Con passione, JS 53 (1919); Three Pieces, Op. 96: a. Valse lyrique (1919), b. Autrefois (arr. by composer, 1919) & c. Valse chevaleresque (1921, rev. 1922)
CD 4 [76:01]
Six Bagatelles, Op. 97 (1920): No. 1 Humoreske I, No. 2 Lied (Song), No. 3 Kleiner Walzer (Little Waltz), No. 4 Humoristischer Marsch (Humorous March), No. 5 Impromptu & No. 6 Humoreske II; Suite mignonne, Op. 98a (arr. by composer, 1927); Suite champêtre, Op. 98b (arr. by composer, 1922); Eight Short Pieces, Op. 99 (1922): No. 1 Pièce humoristique, No. 2 Esquisse, No. 3 Souvenir, No. 4 Impromptu, No. 5 Couplet, No. 6 Animoso, No. 7 Moment de valse & No. 8 Petite marche; Suite caractéristique, Op. 100 (arr. by composer, 1922); Five Romantic Compositions, Op. 101 (1923-24): No. 1 romance, No. 2 Chant du soir, No. 3 Scène lyrique, No. 4 Humoresque & No. 5 Scène romantique; Five Characteristic Impressions, Op. 103 (1923-24): No. 1 the village Church, No. 2 the Fiddler, No. 3 The Oarsman, No. 4 The Storm & No. 5 In Mournful Mood; From The Tempest, Op. 109 (1925): Episode (Miranda), Tanz der Nymphen (Dance of the Nymphs) & Scène (arr. by composer, 1927);
CD 5 [51:44]
Morceau romantique sur un motif de M. Jacob de Julin, JS 135b (1925); Ett ensamt skidspår (A Lonely Ski-Trail), JS 77a (1925); Five Esquisses, Op. 114 (1929): No. 1 Maisema (Landscape), No. 2 Talvikuva (Winter Scene), No. 3 Metsälampi (Forest Lake), No. 4 Metsälaulu (Song in the Forest) & No. 5 Kevätnäky (Spring Vision); Adagio, JS 161 (1931) ‘Rakkaalle Ainolle’ (‘To My Beloved Aino’)* for piano four hands (Peter Lönnqvist, piano II)
Appendix: Preliminary/Alternative Versions*:
From Belsazars gästabud (Belshazzar’s Feast), JS 48: No. 4 Livets dans (Dance of Life) & No. 5 Dödens dans (Dance of Death) (arr. by composer, 1906); Ballade (Preliminary version of Aspen, Op. 75 No. 3, ca. 1912); Granen (The Spruce) (Preliminary version of Op. 75 No. 5, 1914); Valse lyrique (1919) (Preliminary version of Op. 69a combining material from Syringa (1914) and Granen (1914)); Valse chevaleresque (Preliminary version of Op. 96c, 1921); Lied (Song) (Preliminary version of Op. 97 No. 2, 1920); Impromptu (Preliminary version of Op. 97 No. 5, 1920); Andantino – Allegretto (Preliminary version of Scène romantique, Op. 101 No. 5, 1923-24); In Mournful Mood (Preliminary version of Op. 103 No. 5,, 1923-24); Metsälaulu (Song of the Forest) (Preliminary version of Op. 114 No. 4, 1929

Discoveries are there to be made and there’s some delight too among the workaday and the scholarship… see Full Review


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