This double CD from EMI features the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by their Finnish principal conductor at the time (1970s), Paavo Berglund. It doesn't have to be that a conductor originates from the same country as the composer whose works he or she is conducting, but it often happens that this combination seems to produce performances of greatest sensitivity. So it is here, as Berglund conducts 10 works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The discs include quite familiar works like En Saga, one of Sibelius' first compositions when he was in his late 20s. We also have Pohjola's Daughter, The Bard and two of the four Lemminkäinen Legends, and a beautiful version of Luonnotar sung by the Finnish soprano Taru Valjakka. The rest of the discs is made up of less frequently heard pieces. We have the five-movement suite from the incidental music Sibelius wrote for Adolf Paul's play King Christian II (1898); the Spring Song (Vårsång) of 1894; the suite of incidental music from Maeterlinck's Pelleas and Melisande.
In 2007, the 50th anniversary of Sibelius’s death, BIS begins the release of a 13-volume edition of all the music that the great master ever created – from the symphonies and tone poems to chamber works and songs. As well as the published works, the edition includes rare original versions and world première recordings of works from his youth – material which to a large extent is unique to BIS. The edition – a grand total of some 65 discs – contains previously released as well as new material, in volumes of 4-6 discs sorted by genre.
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.