Deft and Brilliant
Sibelius orchestral music -
'... in the safest of hands.'
The fascinations of these discs are many, and their range is a revelation. If the most importance attaches to the Violin Concerto, original and revised, great interest revolves round the first piece of all, an Overture in E written in Vienna near the start of 1891 when Sibelius was twenty-five. It was to be the first movement of a symphony that never materialised. He had heard Tristan and Bruckner was his symphonic ideal. But it is his native Finland that dominates the music. Some of the orchestral parts are headed 'A Wolf Hunt in Siberia'.
Listen -- Sibelius: Overture in E, JS 145
(CD1 track 1, 0:02-1:49) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
In 1899 Russian pressure weighed heavily on the Finnish press, and there was a three-day celebration in Helsinki that November nominally for a pension fund but also to make covert protest. Sibelius wrote music for a prelude and six scenes illustrating significant moments in Finnish history. The fourth tableau represented the Finns in the Thirty Years' War, that trying episode in European history when religion was at its worst.
Listen -- Sibelius: Tableau 4 (Press Celebrations Music JS 137)
(CD2 track 11, 3:27-5:00) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
The English nominally kept out of the conflict but cut off their king's head by way of an effective coda.
An Overture in A minor was written in early 1902 as addition to the programme that featured the triumphant première of Symphony No 2. Traditionally it was composed during a night of remarkable concentration in a Helsinki hotel. It has had little independent existence since its first appearance; but its initial and final fanfares are entirely characteristic of Sibelius, and the faster music makes use of an idea that found a more lasting home in the finale of the Voces intimae string quartet.
Listen -- Sibelius: Overture in A minor, JS 144
(CD3 track 4, 3:40-5:44) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
Its comparatively relaxed mood would have pleasantly offset the taut argument of the symphony.
The First World War years were not easy for Sibelius. He was immersed in revising the Fifth Symphony, foreign royalties dried up, while alcohol became an increasing solace and source of remorse. His wife decided to visit the Russian capital for a visit just weeks before Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate in the first of the 1917 revolutions. Against a background of such turmoil Sibelius produced six Humoresques for violin and orchestra. Much of the writing is deft and brilliant, wonderfully exploiting the violin's possibilities.
Listen -- Sibelius: Humoresque in D, Op 87 No 2
(CD4 track 11, 0:08-0:52) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
Sibelius first visited England in 1905. A post-war tour in 1921 increased his reputation, with performances of symphonies Nos 3-5 spread over Birmingham and London. But much travelling meant that No 6 was still on the stocks and, as so often, he relieved his frustration with the production of comparatively light music. The Suite mignonne is scored for two flutes and strings, casts fleeting glances at Tchaikovsky, and has the easy grace of its French title. The final 'Épilogue' demonstrates the infallible tuning of the two solo flautists.
Listen -- Sibelius: Épilogue (Suite mignonne, Op 98a)
(CD5 track 6, 0:20-1:02) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
The original soloist in the 1904 version of the Violin Concerto was not up to its formidable technical demands. Hence unfavourable reviews and Sibelius's decision to revise. Much was cut and changed, notably in the outer movements, before the work was ultimately ready for a Berlin première under Richard Strauss in October 1905. The composer's wife never abandoned her preference for the concerto in its original form, and it is a major joy of this set that both versions can be sampled. 1904 offers innumerable surprises.
Listen -- Sibelius: Allegro moderato (Violin Concerto, original version)
(CD6 track 4, 13:15-15:12) © 1984-2009 BIS Records AB
As soloist Leonidas Kavakos is both expert and relaxed; indeed this volume of the Sibelius Edition is throughout in the safest of hands.
Copyright © 15 October 2009
CD INFORMATION: THE SIBELIUS EDITION - ORCHESTRAL WORKS