A pupil of the Sibelius Academy and mentor Miriam Fried, violinist Pekka Kuusisto (b. 1976) plays excellently spirited Sibelius on his classic 1752 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini instrument. A strong component of the aural delight to be found on this sonically splendid disc comes from its January 2006 recording in surround sound, whose separation of solo and jaunty accompaniment the opening Six Humoresques proves spectacular. I first discovered my pleasure in these 1917 pieces when violinist John Dalley of the Guarneri String Quartet played them in concert; then Aaron Rosand’s wondrous recording for Vox sealed them in my heart. Kuusisto relishes all sorts of pauses, flourishes, and the intricacies of harmonics with impressive gusto. His 41-piece orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, makes its tympanic presence felt in the D Major Serenade of 1912. Its G Minor counterpart might well be a singular meditation for the era just prior to the Great War. The angular, even modal, melodic contour and exotic coloring shimmers into a nervous dance whose pulse resembles aspects of the Sixth Symphony. Again, the recorded sound, courtesy of engineer Enno Maemets, has violin and antiphonal horns and winds streaking through the sonic stratosphere.
The airy Suite in three movements (1929) is the last of the composer’s works to receive an opus number. Entirely bucolic in spirit, the Suite might be Sibelius’ answer to Delius. Evening in Spring bursts out with some harmonies we experience in the A Minor Symphony, but they are soon subdued by a more tender impulse. The pizzicati in the hasty dance In the Summer could have been penned by Leroy Anderson, with a treble part from Paganini. Maybe a hint of Mozart’s Haffner Serenade. For my money, the seven-part Swanwhite Suite (1908) for a Strindberg play belongs to its prime interpreter, Sir Thomas Beecham. The strength of the Tapiola Sinfonietta’s string articulation and the castanets from outer space don’t hurt this version any, however. The texture of The Harp interlude draws from the composer’s C Major Symphony, Op. 52, with touches from Tchaikovsky and Debussy. The Maiden With the Roses waltz used to be a Stokowski encore. Flutes imitate robins while the tympani and harp reverberate in gorgeous Technicolor from the four corners of your sound space. The Prince Alone with his clarinet enters some fascinating harmonic labyrinths. Swanwhite and the Prince remains Sibelius‚ a miniature of Scheherazade. “Conductor” Kuusisto insists he merely plays the violin along with his compatriots in Swanwhite. Whatever his instrumental contribution, the total effect warrants my recommending this disc for Best of the Year honors.
— Gary Lemco