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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Suite: Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 46 (1905) [28:50]
Music from Swanwhite, Op. 54 (1909) [18:01]
Suite: King Christian II (1898) [31:35]
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Petri Sakari
rec. 6-9 October 1992, Håskólabió, Reykjavik
CHANDOS CHAN10828X [79:38]

With his 150th anniversary coming along next year, it is likely that Sibelius — and his great contemporary Nielsen — will be given a high profile; and rightly so.

This Chandos reissue of recordings from twenty years ago still sounds splendid, and there is no doubting the Sibelian credentials of Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, whose recordings of the symphonies (for Naxos) made such a very positive impression.

The concert suites drawn for the theatre music form an important and rewarding aspect of Sibelius’s orchestral music. They seldom offer the power and drama of the symphonies but they abound in music of beautifully drawn sensitivity and some wonderful melodic inspiration. As ever the composer’s orchestral mastery is assured, and his judgements of instrumentation and of musical development are impeccable.

The orchestral playing here is of a high order, with string sound that is never less than pleasing and some distinguished contributions from the wind players.

It is inevitable that alternative versions of this repertoire will offer different couplings, and one particular issue is that the selection from Swanwhite is more restricted than the full suite found elsewhere, for example on Neeme Järvi’s excellent recording with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on BIS-CD359.

On a less positive note, the accompanying booklet’s presentation falls somewhat below Chandos’s usually high standards, and a tighter editorial control would have reaped benefit. Towards the back no fewer than four full pages are given over to advertising CDs of vaguely related Scandinavian repertoire, while the introductory notes feature the music in the opposite order to that found on the CD – why not have this chronologically as well? A case of ‘right hand and left hand’, perhaps. Worst of all are the cue points, which are difficult to read in the booklet and practically impossible to read on the back of the case – the worst such example I have ever encountered. It’s not a crucial issue, I admit, but it is undoubtedly irritating because it’s so thoughtless and unnecessary.

Terry Barfoot