Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Tempest - Overture, Op.109 No.1 [7:12]
The Tempest - Suites No.1, Op.109 No.2 [21:43]; No.2, Op.109 No.3 [15:51]
The Bard, Op.64 [7:01]
Tapiola, Op.112 [17:36]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Okko Kamu
rec. January 2011, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland. DDD
Hybrid Disc (SACD Surround / SACD Stereo / CD Stereo)
Complete track-list at end of review
Reviewed in standard stereo
BIS-SACD-1945 [71:41]

While googling Sibelius and The Tempest I found reference to an extraordinary event broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 29 December 1949. This was a 135 minute radio adaptation of The Tempest arranged by Dennis Arundell with Sibelius’s incidental music performed by the BBC Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Stanford Robinson. It had James McKechnie as Prospero and Gabrielle Blunt as Miranda. Other more familiar names were David Kossoff, Molly Rankin and Carleton Hobbs as Gonzalo. I wonder if a recording survives anywhere.

That’s an aside really. This Sibelius anthology comes from one of Finland’s elder statesmen conductors, Okko Kamu. Despite achieving greatness early on as a DG-supported protégée of Karajan who recorded Sibelius’s first three symphonies as a complement to Karajan’s last four Kamu has not had a high profile. He has taken a quieter route than his countryman, the much loved and now ailing Paavo Berglund. Note must also be made for additional and brilliant interpretations of the Lemminkainen Legends, Karelia Suite, The Bard and En Saga – all now on Eloquence.

One wonder what prompted this project – not that it lacks virtues. Bis have just completed their exhaustive 13 volume Sibelius Edition which includes The Tempest music in full in the version conducted by Vänskä back in 1992 with the same orchestra – originally issued on BIS-CD-581. The same box (volume 5) also includes Neeme Järvi conducting the Prelude and the two suites in 1990 – originally issued with the Cassazione, Preludio and Tiera on BIS-CD-448. Kamu is no stranger to the full 40 cue cycle rather than the 20 tracks we have here. In fact Kamu made a famous broadcast of the complete sequence back in 1972. This was part of a European Broadcasting Union relay with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The soloists were Usko Vitainen and the incomparable Taru Valjakka who recorded Luonnotar so luminously with Berglund for EMI. What we have on this disc is valuable for some of us as a reminder of that now long distant radio event but also as it preserves Kamu’s vision of this episodic and challenging music. His Prelude is notable for its implacably calm finale. The Humoreske is bouncily airborne. The Caliban Song looks back to the music for Belshazzar’s Feast. Intrada recalls the dark dissonances at the start of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Sibelius’s Prospero seems to reference Handel. At several points the links with Tchaikosky’s ballet music are underlined yet the flavouring is unmistakably Nordic. I have yet to hear anyone trounce Beecham in these miniatures but certainly Kamu comes close and this silver pure recording certainly compares well with Beecham’s somewhat tired analogue (Sony). There’s a gentle The Bard with some satisfyingly growling brass at the fleetingly assertive climax but except in recording terms this is on a par with the analogue recording of the work that he made in the 1970s for DG. The Tapiola is a cut above – as a work it can seem flat-footed. This is not the case here. Incidents are touched in with the most finely flecked skill and the sickle-edged vortex of a gale evoked by the keen-bladed violins is memorable. This is not the equal of the extraordinary but ancient Van Beinum version on Eloquence but it is a far from inconsiderable reading and the cutting edge recording accentuates its merits. The annotations are by Andrew Barnett.

Rob Barnett

Kamu, an elder statesman of Finnish music, sets out his Sibelian wares in splendid new recordings.

BIS Sibelius Edition reviews

Complete track-list

The Tempest – Overture, Op.109 No.1
1. Largamente molto – Largo assai 7'12
The Tempest – Suite No.1, Op.109 No.2
2. I. Der Eichbaum (The Oak Tree). Andante sostenuto 3'00
3. II. Humoreske. Allegro commodo 1'05
4. III. Calibans Lied (Caliban’s Song). Allegro commodo 1'29
5. IV. Die Herbstmänner (The Harvesters). Allegro 2'26
6. V. Canon. Allegro 2'06
7. VI. Scène. Allegretto 1'35
8. VII. Intrada – Berceuse. Largo – Andante sostenuto 2'33
9. VIII. Zwischenspiel – Ariels Lied (Entr’acte – Ariel’s Song) 2'57
10. IX. Der Sturm (The Storm). Largo – Largo assai 4'32
The Tempest – Suite No.2, Op.109 No.3
11. I. Chor der Winde (Chorus of the Winds). Largamente assai – Poco adagio 2'51
12. II. Intermezzo. Andante con moto 1'58
13. III. Tanz der Nymphen (Dance of the Nymphs). Allegretto grazioso 1'59
14. IV. Prospero. Largo 1'31
15. V. Lied I (Song I). Allegretto moderato 1'02
16. VI. Lied II (Song II). Un poco con moto 1'03
17. VII. Miranda. Allegretto 1'53
18. VIII. Die Najaden (The Naiads). Poco con moto 1'34
19. IX. Tanz-Episode (Dance Episode) 2'04
The Bard, Op.64
20. Lento assai – Largamente 7'01
Tapiola, Op.112
21. Largamente – Allegro moderato – Allegro 17'36
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Okko Kamu