JAN SIBELIUS: “Rarities and First Recordings” (TrackList follows) – BIS

by | Sep 12, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

“The Unknown Sibelius” = JAN SIBELIUS: “Rarities and First Recordings” (TrackList follows) – Lahti Sym. Orch./Osmo Vänskä, Okku Kamu, conductors/Helena Juntunen, sop./Anne Sofie van Otter, Monica Groop, mezzo-sopranos/Gabriel Souvanen, Jorma Hynninen, baritones/Folke Gräsbeck, p./Dominate Choir/Orphei Drängar – Bis BIS2065, 79:17 (Distr. by Naxos) (7/30/13) ****:

This is a very interesting, surprising and – sometimes – eccentric addition to the wonderful “Sibelius Edition” on Bis with the Lahti Symphony. The first piece of the many discoveries recorded here is the “intermediate” version of what became known as Finlandia; Finland Awakes. The only – somewhat subtle – difference between the composer’s original of the patriotic hymn tune from 1899 to the Finlandia we all know is the restatement of the tune in its entirety at the end of the work. But this is not how the well known work in its present form goes – you may have to listen attentively to catch this!

A similar situation exists with the first version of The Oceanides, written for the Norfolk Festival in 1914. This version is in D minor – as opposed to the brighter reworking in D major. This version sat unperformed in the Yale University library until 2002 when Lahti first performed it. Sticking with the orchestral oddities herein, the Four Fragments are literally fragments of score from Breitkopf and Hartel’s editor taken from manuscripts during the last twenty years of Sibelius’ life. Their purpose remains unclear and listening to these is intriguing and unsettling at once because the music stops abruptly, unresolved, uncontinued. The Processional from 1938 was probably a part of the composer’s Music religieuse for tenor, organ and orchestra. In places, it bears a passing resemblance to the composer’s symphonic writing, especially the Sixth Symphony.

I collectively think of the vocal and choral selections as the “eccentric” aspect of this disc because, for the most part, these little gems just do not sound like Sibelius. There is a German parlor-music quality to both “Jag kisser dig..” as well as “Tule, tule kultani.”  The Italian Folk Arrangements are just that. It is probable that the young Sibelius picked up the sounds of many European countries and cultures in his travels to Berlin and Vienna. Aside from the composer’s realization that voice and text could be used as a vehicle for everything from romance to political fervor, these works do stand as a bit of curiosity and, perhaps, not much else; as they really bear little stylistic resemblance to the large, characteristically nationalistic sound of Sibelius that all are familiar with.

The two chamber works offer some pleasant surprises, as well. The Serenata for two violins and cello is a very tuneful little work written for family entertainment while the composer was on vacation at the islands of Turku. Ödlan (“The Lizard”) is an oddly melancholic chamber work intended as incidental music for a play written by a friend. The music is fairly pensive and serious throughout, commensurate with the thoughts of mortality that pervade the highly symbolic play.

Lastly, Sibelius’s piano music represents another whole – but fairly small – component of his oeuvre that I was not at all familiar with. This music, as in some of his choral output, does not sound like the “familiar” Sibelius. All four pieces herein have a rather intimate history, being written for family or friends. As the booklet notes remark, the theme from the E major Adagio was used later in his “Voces intimaeQuartet. 

This whole disc really is an “essential” addition for Sibelius lovers (of which, I am one).  These works do pose a different side to the master’s art. I don’t think anyone would dispute that Sibelius’s fame and status have reside mainly with the large, beautiful orchestral works; Finlandia, the symphonies, the Four Legends, the Violin Concerto. However, this gives us a very interesting look at the rest of his output and, whether or not the works sound “typical”, they make for compelling listening.


Orchestral –

1. Finland Awakes

2. The Oceanides (Yale version)

Vocal/choral –

3. Jag kisser dig [och ledsnar] ej

4. Tule, tule kultani

5 & 6. Tanken

7. Italian Folk Song Arrangements

8. Fridolins dårskap

9. Jone havsfärd

Chamber –

10 & 11. Serenata

12. Ödlan

Piano –

13. Andantino in D major

14. Impromptu in B minor

15. Adagio in E major

16. Adagio “Rakkaalle Ainolle”

Orchestral –

20. Four Fragments

21.  Processional

—Daniel Coombs

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