SIBELIUS: Tempest Suites Nos. 1 & 2; Scaramouche Incidental Music – Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/ Jussi Jalas – Decca/London/HDTT

by | Aug 17, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SIBELIUS: Tempest Suites Nos. 1 & 2; Scaramouche Incidental Music – Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/ Jussi Jalas – Decca/London/HDTT HQCD177, 43:44 (avail. as CD, HQCD or 96K DVD-R) www. highdeftapetransfers.com *****:

This HDTT disc comes in a large DVD case, but is playable on any CD player. In addition to the high-end components HDTT uses in processing the original (in this case quarter-track) prerecorded tapes, this one is burned to a special type of blank CD from Taiyo Yuden, engineered for best data transfer and lowest jitter rates.  A comparison of an HQCD with the 96K DVD-R option of another HDTT selection showed the HQCD to sound superior, but I had no other version to do a comparison with this one.

In 1925 Sibelius was asked to compose music for a theatrical production in Copenhagen of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He wrote over an hour of music for vocalists, mixed-voice choir, harmonium and large orchestra, first performed in Copenhagen in March 1926. One reviewer noted, “Shakespeare and Sibelius, these two geniuses, have finally found one another.”  The music, along with Tapiola, were to be his last great works, with the remaining 32 years of his life observing “The Silence of Javenpaa.”

The number of items of incidental music numbered 35 and were condensed and reorganized by Sibelius into 19 selections, including an overture. The music is considered one of the composer’s greatest achievements due to its richness of imagination. The musical representation of the tempest is especially good. For this particular recording for Decca, the 35 selections were reduced to 19 in two orchestral suites.  It would have been nice if HDTT had included the list of selections along with their rather extensive notes.

The Scaramouche music is for chamber orchestra with piano. I’ve long found Milhaud’s Scaramouche Suite for two pianos or sax and piano one of my favorite works of French music.  I thought it was fairly optimistic and celebratory, but the original pantomine concerns a hunchbacked dwarf who has a magical viola which charms a beautiful wife into leaving her husband. The dark and bloody plot is rather different than what I expected. Sibelius’ music is dreamy, devilish and full of decadent rhythms.  The sonics are much more high quality than one would suspect from original 4-track commercial tapes.

— John Sunier

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