All the pieces recorded here come from the 1920s, the period of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, and are rarities. Among the finest are the Five Sketches, which come from the very end of the decade and more among Sibelius’s last published works. They may be slight but they are highly individual and hive great finesse. The Village Church from Op. 103 has overtones of the Andante festivo for strings, and The Oarsman seems to ruminate on ideas in the Seventh Symphony. Sibelius’s piano-writing may have evoked little enthusiasm during his lifetime and it is true that, by the exalted standards he set elsewhere, it is limited in resource and scale. But pieces like In Mournful Mood and Landscape from Op. 114 are curiously haunting. So is the rest of the Op. 114 set, and its neglect has been our loss.
Gimse delivers very attractive readings that are warm, poetic and user-friendly. Actually, you won't find more affectionate performances on disc…. each piece is expertly constructed with engrossing melodies and rhythms that are not soon forgotten… With little exception, these pieces are among Sibelius's most enjoyable. They flow beautifully and express human urges, regret and triumph. Sibelius also injects a delightful improvisation into a few of the works… Gimse continues to offer excellent readings with an enticing blend of warmth and mystery…These are absolute gems that retain my attention after many hearings…For those who remain interested in Sibelius piano discs, Gimse's Naxos series is a fine choice. The price tag is low, and he offers affectionate interpretations in rich and clear sound.
The Ten Pieces of Op. 58 date from 1909, the year of the String Quartet (Voces intimae). They are delightful and by no means just trivial. Each has its own sobriquet and shows real keyboard character. The final rather solemn Summer Song is memorable, as is the wistful mood of the first of the Two Rondinos, written two years later; the second sparkles most pianistically. The three Sonatinas, written together in the summer of 1912, are also full of charming ideas, giving the impressions of a composer relaxing in holiday mood. Håvard Gimse plays all this music freshly, and this Naxos disc more than bears out the promise of its companions.
The Norwegian pianist Håvard Gimse here includes two important sets of the piano pieces, Opp. 34 and 40, and the 6 Finnish Folk Songs, fifth of which, Fratricide, is slightly Bartókian. Sibelius’s contemporary and countryman Selim Palmgren put it perfectly when he wrote that ‘even in what for him were alien regions, [Sibelius] moves with an unfailing responsiveness to tone colour’, and Gimse brings finesse and distinction to this repertoire. This and the companion disc are first recommendations.
The Sonata and Impromptus are early and come from the year in which the first version of En Saga was composed. The Sonata has a genuine sense of forward movement and some of its ideas are appealing. The Op. 24 Pieces were written at various times between 1894 and 1903. The Norwegian pianist Håvard Gimse has consistent tonal beauty and unfailing musicianship. He is imaginative and has the kind of natural eloquence which allows the music to speak for itself yet still makes it sound fresh and unsentimental. This is distinguished playing and a strong recommendation at any price level.
The years spanned by this seven-disc Warner Classics collection coincide with the peak years of Jean Sibelius' popularity. At that time, he was widely regarded in Western countries as the greatest living composer, though he had essentially stopped producing major works after the mid-1920s, when he wrote the Symphony No. 7 in C major, the incidental music to The Tempest, and Tapiola.
The Italian word malinconia was very commonly used in the nineteenth century as a title for melancholy pieces. Yet the idea of malinconia covered a myriad of romantic notions, so that simply translating it as "melancholy" does not do it justice. It subsumes many other emotional states as well - all kinds of dejection, gloom, unknown sadness, desperation, depression and even frustration. Each language has evolved its own terms, and interpretations of the word itself also differ from region to region. Malinconia in sunny Italy or Spain is quite different from melancholy in Norway and in Finland, where the winters are harsh and long. The Nordic variant is expressed here in various musical examples; words alone are anyway inadequate.
A string quartet was among the very first works that Edvard Grieg presented after completing his studies in 1861, but the Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, was the only such work to be published in his lifetime. In 1878, while composing it, Grieg wrote that ‘it aims at breadth, to soar, and, above all, at vigorous sound’, and the amplitude of the sound is indeed striking: the generous use of double-stops creates an almost orchestral effect, unusual for the genre. This caused some reviewers to criticize the quartet as being unidiomatic, while others, including Liszt, greeted it with enthusiasm. Some thirty years later, when Jean Sibelius composed his D minor quartet Op. 56, he too had previous experience of writing for the medium, but Op. 56 is the only quartet among his mature works. The often used 'nickname' Voces intimae is often taken to refer to the intimate interchange between the four voices in a quartet, but is probably a more specific allusion to a brief passage in the third movement: Sibelius wrote the remark into a score some time after the work had been published.
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.