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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Complete Works for Mixed Choir
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Heikki Seppänen
rec. 2014, Järvenpää Hall, Järvenpää, Finland
Full texts with English translations
ONDINE ODE 1260-2D [51.11 + 52.40]

This year (2015) marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius who is often referred to as ‘Finland’s national composer’. For many decades the works of Sibelius have proved enduringly popular in the recording studio. I should think that all have now been recorded with the repertoire staples many, many times over. I did wonder if there would be some new ground when this Ondine release of the ‘Complete Works for Mixed Choir’ first arrived on my desk. This double set comprises fifty-eight works but none of them are claimed to be first recordings. I have not compared content but that honour may well be taken by Vol. 11 of the Bis Sibelius Edition.

Sibelius wrote over a hundred minutes of music for mixed choir spanning some sixty-seven or so years. Favouring settings of text by Finnish poets Sibelius was inspired to write for a wide range of ensembles: from small vocal groups to massed choirs. He wrote for many purposes including competitions, friends, particular choruses - male, female and mixed, children and schools, universities, folk and music societies, birthdays, funerals, anniversaries, liturgical use, Christmas songs, Masonic use, trades unions, music festivals, patriotic events and official occasions.

The complete works for mixed choir are here sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - a professional chorus based in Tallinn. It was founded in 1981 by Tõnu Kaljuste. He was the chamber choir’s director for twenty years (1981/2000) and was followed by Paul Hillier (2001/07) and Daniel Reuss (2008/13) with Kaspars Putniņš taking over as artistic director and chief conductor in 2014. Conducting the choir here is Heikki Seppänen, senior church musician at the Hämeenlinna Church. He knows this choir well.

With only a few exceptions these scores for mixed chorus are disappointing overall, leaving little impression on this listener. For a composer who wasn’t afraid to write glorious melodies most of the collection lacks anything that is melodically memorable. Relatively few songs here held the attention or set the pulse racing. Standing out like a beacon and based around the Sibelius’s world-famous tune from Finlandia are the final two tracks Finlandia Hymn in F major and Finlandia Hymn in A flat major. To a text by V.A. Koskenniemi these hymns are the same but in different keys. It was the F major version that Sibelius chose to have published. I rather enjoy the opening track Rakastava (The Lover) with its lovely blend of voices including the commanding and smooth baritone contribution of Arttu Kataja. The slightly wavery mezzo of Jenny Carlstadt is a minor drawback. Prominent too are the four works from the set of Six Songs, Op. 18. These are splendidly contrasted and here are so beautifully and expressively sung. Also of interest is the Carminalia choral setting of the Piae Cantiones, a late Medieval Latin text that is presented here in three sets of three, first the a cappella version with the next two sets accompanied by harmonium and by piano. It's surprising the difference the accompaniment makes to holding my attention. The choral song Soitapas sorea neito (Play Pretty Maiden) benefits as a result of the solo part sung by bright-voiced tenor Tuomas Katajala. The attractive Joululaulu - En etsi valtaa, loistoa (A Christmas Song) contains a moving soprano part well sung by Kaia Urb that floats splendidly over the women’s chorus.

In truth there was little else on the double set that made much of an impression, although, I had no problem with the excellence of the dedicated performances. The sound quality is clear and well balanced and in the booklet provides full texts with English translations.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dan Morgan

CD 1
1. Rakastava (The Lover), JS 160c (1893/1898) [6:24]
From Six Songs, Op 18:
2. Sortunut ääni (The Voice Now Stilled), Op. 18 No. 1 [1:23]
3. Venematka (The Journey by Boat), Op. 18 No. 3 [1:44]
4. Saarella palaa (Fire on the Island), Op. 18 No. 4 [1:13]
5 Sydämeni laulu (Glade of Tuoni), Op. 18 No. 6 [2:55]
6. Min rastas raataa (Where the Thrush Toils), JS 129 [1:10]
Carminalia, JS 51c (1898):
7. I Ecce novum gaudium (Behold a New Joy), Version a cappella [0:48]
8. II Angelus emittitur (An Angel is Sent Out) , Version a cappella [0:28]
9. III In stadio laboris (In Athletic Strife), Version a cappella [0:37]
10. I Ecce novum gaudium (Behold a New Joy) , Version with Harmonium [0:54]
11. II Angelus emittitur (An Angel is Sent Out), Version with harmonium [0:28]
12. III In stadio laboris (In Athletic Strife), Version with harmonium [0:38]
13. I Ecce novum gaudium (Behold a New Joy), Version with piano [0:51]
14. II Angelus emittitur (An Angel is Sent Out), Version with piano [0:30]
15. III In stadio laboris (In Athletic Strife) Version with piano [0:40]
16. Kotikaipaus (Homesickness), JS 111 [1:16]
17. Isänmaalle (To the Fatherland), JS 98a [2:05]
18. Hur blekt är allt (So Faded Everything Is), JS 96 [0:27]
19. När sig våren åter föder (When Spring is Born Again), JS 139 [0:30]
20. Tanke, se hur fågeln svingar (Thought, See how the Bird Swoops), JS 191 [1:09]
21. Ensam i dunkla skogarnas famn (Alone in the Dark Forest’s Clasp), JS 72 [2:13]
22. Ack hör du fröken Gyllenborg (Ah! Listen, Miss Gyllenborg), JS 10 [0:29]
23. Työkansan marssi (The March of the Labourers), JS 212 [2:15]
24. Soitapas sorea neito (Play Pretty Maiden), JS 176 (1893–94) [1:17]
25. Juhlamarssi (Festive March), JS 105 (1894/1896) [2:52]
26. Aamusumussa (In the Morning Mist), JS 9a [1:44]
27. Uusmaalaisten laulu (The Song of the Men of Uusimaa), JS 214a [2:29]
28. Kallion kirkon kellosävel (The Bells of Kallio Church), Op. 65b [2:20]
29. Drömmarna (Dreams), JS 64 [1:28]
30. Män från slätten och havet (Men from Plain and Sea), Op. 65a [5.38]
 
CD 2
Lauluja sekakuorolle 1897 vuoden promootiokantaatista (Songs for Mixed Choir from the 1897 Promotion Cantata), Op. 23 (c. 1897–1898)
1. I Me nuoriso Suomen (The Journey Continues) [2:31]
2. II Tuuli tuudittele (Wind, Cosset our Boat) [2:09]
3. III Oi toivo, toivo, sa lietomieli (Hope, that State which so Consoles Me) [1:10]
4. IV Montapa elon merellä (Many Pitfalls Await us on Life’s Road) [0:53]
5. V Jalo toimi ja korkea tieto on vaan (Noble Deeds and Wisdom) [1:56]
6. VIa Soi kiitokseksi Luojan (Let our Sweet Song of Thanks) [1:26]
7. VIb Tuule, tuuli leppeämmin (Blow Softer Now, Breeze) [2:36]
8. VII Oi Lempi, sun valtas ääretön on (O Love, you Genial Child of God) [2:12]
9. VIII Kuin virta vuolas (Like a Surging Stream) [2:24]
10. IX Oi, kallis Suomi, äiti verraton (Precious Finland) [1:19]
11. Den 25 Oktober 1902 (October 25th 1902) [1], JS 60 [2:08]
12. Den 25 Oktober 1902 (October 25th 1902) [2], JS 61 [2:10]
13. Ej med klagan (Not with Laments), JS 69 [1:07]
14. Kansakoululaisten marssi (March of the Primary School Children), JS 103 [1:40]
15. Kantat (Cantata), JS 107 [2:53]
16. Nejden andas (The Landscape Breathes), from Op. 30 [0:31]
17. Terve Ruhtinatar (Hail, O Princess), from Cantata JS 104 [0:50]
Three Songs for American Schools, JS 199 (1913):
18. The Sun Upon the Lake is Low [0:45]
19. A Cavalry Catch [0:49]
20. Autumn Song [0:43]
21. Koulutie (The Way to School), JS 112 [4:36]
22. Skolsång (School Song), JS 172 [0:45]
23.Den höga himlen och den vida jorden (The Lofty Heav’n), JS 58a
[2:34]
24. On lapsonen syntynyt meille (A Child is Born Unto Us), JS 142
[2:21]
25. Joululaulu [En etsi valtaa, loistoa] (A Christmas Song), Op. 1 No. 4 [2:13]
26. On hanget korkeat nietokset (High are the Snowdrifts), Op. 1 No. 5 [1:48]
27. Finlandia Hymn in F major (from Op. 26) [2:00]
28. Finlandia Hymn in A flat major (from Op. 26) [1:51]
Jenny Carlstadt (mezzo) (CD 1, track 1; CD 2, tracks 1-10)
Arttu Kataja (baritone) (CD 1, track 1; CD 2, tracks 1-10)
Tuomas Katajala (tenor) (CD 1, track 24)
Kaia Urb (soprano) (solo featured on CD 2, track 25)
Matleena Seppänen (triangle) (CD 2, track 9)
Tuomo Lassila (cymbal) (CD 2, track 9)
Ari-Pekka Mäenpää (bass drum) (CD 2, track 9)
Folke Gräsbeck (harmonium, piano) (CD 1, tracks 10-15; CD 2, tracks 19, 20)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Heikki Seppänen