Vol. 2 in BIS' complete Sibelius Edition is given over the Finnish master's chamber music for strings and for strings and piano. Fifty years earlier, this release would've included only the "Voces intimae" string quartet. But BIS' 2007 release includes all four quartets and all four piano trios, plus 35 other works or substantial fragments lasting between 13 seconds to 32 minutes. One thing is instantly clear: Sibelius scholarship has made enormous strides since the mid-twentieth century.
The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003 of the Minnesota Orchestra, long ago proved himself a formidable interpreter of Nordic music in general and Sibelius in particular. This symphonic cycle – two highly praised discs are already out – is now complete, with this album of the pliant, classical Symphony No 3, the little known and underrated No 6 and the mysterious, enthralling single-movement No 7. The playing is polished and detailed, now springy and buoyant, now occluded and chilling. Tempi are slightly broad but convincingly so. From the plunging energy of the opening of the Third Symphony to the bleak, raw ending of the Seventh, this is a gripping listen.
British orchestras and their audiences have long held a special affinity for the orchestral works of Jean Sibelius, and the Hallé's venerable tradition of playing his music continues in this superb recording of the Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, the Symphony No. 7 in C major, and the symphonic poem En Saga. Mark Elder's straightforward interpretations are clear-headed and meticulous yet intensely passionate, and the orchestra responds to his direction by digging deep and playing with a commitment that is nearly perceptible. These symphonies and En Saga are representative of Sibelius' mature style, so their deliberate pacing and steady unfolding of motives into organic developments over long time spans require attentive listening, but the clarity of Elder's readings makes the progress of the music easy to follow. Add to this the exceptional reproduction, which brings out every detail with crispness, and presents the Hallé's warm and rich sonorities with credible presence, and the end result is a nearly ideal presentation of Sibelius' music.
Finland's Jean Sibelius is perhaps the most important composer associated with nationalism in music and one of the most influential in the development of the symphony and symphonic poem. But he wrote also a lot of chamber music. This 6th volume of the complete BIS-edition of his works concentrates on works for Violin and Piano.
A generous and unusual pairing of two romantic concertos in the best recordings by "King David", playing his Stradivarius Comte de Fontana, fully animated by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, a modern conductor knowing perfectly the deep Baltic souls.
For Simon Rattle, Jean Sibelius is “one of the most staggeringly original composers that there is”. And indeed, this music has a unique musical language whose many beauties are particularly succinctly conveyed in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. There is sonorous warmth as much as there is austere Nordic folklore. Moreover, there is a conceptual boldness that takes the listener on exciting musical journeys of discovery. In 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth, Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the cycle live, which was met with unanimous delight by audiences and critics alike. “The Philharmoniker show that with them and Simon Rattle, Sibelius is in excellent hands,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung, “because the orchestra has that astringency and sheer power which is so important for this kind of music.”
Sibelius's Symphony No.3 was composed in 1907. It is the link between the romantic intensity of his first two symphonies and the more cold complexity of his later symphonies. Symphony No.7 was completed in 1924 and is notable for having only one movement. The Swan of Tuonela is a tone poem based on the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology. The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Yevgeny Mravinsky pair these with Debussy's Nocturnes Nos.1 & 2.
This sensational disc has served as a reference edition for both concertos since it was first issued back in the late 1980s. The Sibelius concerto is distinguished by the tension between Lin’s passionate and virtuosic account of the solo part and Salonen’s remarkable precision at the head of the orchestra. Listen, for example, to the remarkable rhythmic clarity at the opening of the finale, and to the way this serves to “float” Lin’s daredevil pyrotechnics up above. It’s just marvellous. The same holds true of the Nielsen–there is no finer account of this neglected concerto. It’s a rarity because in the finale Nielsen subordinates flash and dazzle to the work’s overall emotional arc, progressing from anger to contentment. That doesn’t mean the music isn’t excellent, or that Lin and Salonen’s performances aren’t gripping from first note to last. They tear into the opening movement with apt ferocity and find the necessary emotional resolution in the work’s amiable conclusion. The detailed, well-balanced sound ideally suits the interpretations. Essential.
The two Serenades ‘sung’ by the more rapturously Oistrakh-like Kang are sentimental and are recorded with rich immediacy. The Six Humoresques also arrive courtesy of Kang. These are magical bonbons - each weighted and balanced to perfection even though I favour the rawer vintage set glowingly recorded by Rosand and still available on Vox. True Sibelians must not miss these works and Kang and his orchestra do catch these silvery spells and confident little drinking songs - pride and eloquence, seduction and midnight poetry haunt these pages and it's all one especially well.