Sibelian in spirit if not letter
Interplanetary Funksmanship | Vanilla Suburbs, USA | 04/22/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I usually prefer my Sibelius to be performed as closely to the score as possible. My favorite conductors of Sibelius are (in order) Ormandy, Barbirolli, Ashkenazy, Davis and Jansons. What I hear in their performances is not so much interpretation as faithful renderings of the score. Every once in a while I run across a conductor who takes free rein with Sibelius but whose performances are so fiery and awe-inspiring that I dismiss liberties taken with the score. Stokowski and Toscanini (yes, Toscanini, who was not quite the purist everyone made him out to be) instantly come to mind. This present collection falls into this category. It's been a long time since I thrilled to a new Sibelius recording. Järvi's execution is not flawless: For example, in En Saga, the flutes sometimes rush in a little early. All throughout, there are similar moments, particularly of strings playing out of unison. Järvi begins both En Saga and Tapiola with a hurried pace, then seems to bring both pieces to a labouriously slow tempo (The Tapiola clocks in at a snail's pace 20:09). If this were Bernstein or Karajan, I would dismiss it as show-offish. However, upon more careful listening, I understand the method to Järvi's seeming madness. The one quality which stands out above all others in this recording is that the sterile and antiseptic tone which infects most present-day orchestras is gloriously GONE. How refreshing it is to hear passion in a recording; There is a touch of Beecham, of Mitropoulos, in Järvi's conducting. En Saga, which opens the disc, is less heavy-handed than any other I've heard -- briskly paced, lithe and lacking in
the tonal corpulence which characterizes most interpretations. Of all the performances I've heard, with the exception of Arturo
Toscanini's, Järvi is performing the more "organic" rather than the "romantic" Sibelius who composed En Saga; Polytonality is
more evident, particularly in horn and wind passages; String phrasing is more stark and dampened, eschewing vibrato. As an
ensemble, the Göteborgs Symfoniker's instrumentalists communicate well with one another. There are some of the most profound exchanges between the flutes, English horn and strings which stand out on this recording. Spring Song, Canzonetta and Valse Romantique are all new to me; I own no other recordings, so have nothing to which I can compare them. So, I revert to my secondary standard for this particular recording: Does the piece sound particularly Sibelian? ("Sibelian" is a rather elusive term; you know it when you hear it). The answer on all counts is a resounding "yes," even though Valse Romantique sounds too "Viennese." Spring Song is a quintessential example of the early Sibelius, which is often akin to Grieg. It begins in a deceptively placid manner, but builds up, piling-on thematic strands, much like the Vivacissimo of the (future) Second Symphony. There is more than a touch of
Liebestod (the young Sibelius was an arduous, if somewhat secretive, admirer of Wagner) about this piece: The interweaving of ecstatic, romantic love and the tragic sense of fear and mortality which accompanies it. Only a fatalistic Romantic such as Sibelius would give such a composition the innocuous title "Spring Song." I like Järvi's Valse Triste, though I find nothing particularly moving or melancholic about the piece not already put on
paper by the composer. There is a small bit of plodding in the middle section, as though to emphasize its understated
pathos. I prefer the unadorned simplicity of Barbirolli's Halle recording. Then again, Barbirolli had an implicit understanding of Sibelius rivaled only by his affinity to Elgar. On the other hand, this is the best Scene with Cranes I've heard: It sounds suspiciously like Grieg's Heart Wounds mixed with Siegfried's Rhine Journey. This performance is the clearest and
most transparent I've heard -- the bowing sounds as though the violins were made of crystal glass. The Canzonetta and Valse Romantique -- which Sibelius added to Kuolema for a 1911 revival of the play -- are less emotional than Valse Trsite or Cranes. One can even recognize motifs from the Canzonetta which appear in Sibelius' Third Symphony. The Bard is a spiritual counterpart to Scene with Cranes. However, The Bard is pure Sibelius -- all the earlier influences have been distilled away. Tapiola is somewhat out of place in this collection -- Sibelius' last composition, it seems as though there ought to be at least one or two more selections to round out Sibelius' middle-to-later years, such as Oceanides or Pohjola's
Daughter. Unlike En Saga, Järvi's Tapiola is heavier than the norm, from the opening timpani roll. Unfortunately, the timpani is somewhat off-tempo in the opening passages, but not too noticeably. The violas and wind ensembles deftly introduce a feeling of foreboding necessary to this work. The wind ensembles are not as tight as in the RCA Ormandy recording, and thus lack the stress of counterpoint to the strings. However, this is offset by the menacing and dark tones of the contrabassoon and bass clarinet, upon which Järvi places marked emphasis. This is not the "big picture" rendering of Ashkenazy, but rather an intricately thought-out, tactical performance. In the middle section, the rhythmic use of hard mallets on the kettledrums more than redeems the timpanist in my mind -- he plays with an aggressive, warlike cadence a la Herrmann's North by Northwest. Again: How refreshing! Timpanists today play like
shrinking violets, afraid to break from the score, lest some sophisticates think they actually care. Most sound as though they have Q-Tips or wet noodles for mallets, so kudos to the timpanist for sounding as though he has a pair! This is a unique Tapiola, but I actually wish it weren't recorded digitally, but on a vintage Westrex motion-picture recording system from the 1940s; It's a "film-noir" Tapiola, worthy of Max Steiner or Franz Waxman. Altogether, excellent: Not only for its searing energy , but also as an introduction to Sibelius' lesser-known works."
An Interesting Odyssey Through Sibelius' Music
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 03/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maestro Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra recording of these Sibelius works is a fascinating musical odyssey through the composer's career, beginning with early works such as the tone poem "En Saga" and ending with the tone poem "Tapiola". These are well played, occasionally insightful interpretations of Sibelius' music... Jarvi has more success in making a case for the significance of lesser known works such as "Spring Song" and "Valse Triste". Unfortunately, his interpretations of "En Saga", and especially, "Tapiola", are less exciting, and more mundane. For example, the finest recorded performances I've heard of "Tapiola" are those of Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon) and Sir Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Philips); both are vintage recordings dating from the 1960's and 1970's. Yet I would still strongly recommend this CD because of Jarvi's strong advocacy of Sibelius' lesser known works and the recording's excellent sound quality"
Sungu Okan | Istanbul, Istanbul Turkey | 05/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a must have for any Sibelius admirers.This CD be constitued with increasing opus number, so, stars with his early succesful work "En Saga". This tone poem has no programme, but "En Saga" means "A Hero". The CD continues with a not too known tone poem "Spring Song" written in pastoral F Major. This record contains also, the incidental music to play "Kuolema" (The Death) including famous and beautiful Valde triste. This play written by the composer's brother-in-law Arvid Jarnefelt. And the performance of Valse triste is very good. There is an interesting but amazing a movement, too: "Scenes with Cranes". The last movement, Valse romantique, in form of Valse triste, but not "triste", in major tone, more hopeful music.And one of the stars of this record, I think: "The Bard". This is a middle period music and Sibelius used Impressionism style. This is a contemplative music, oftenly slow and sorrowful. Especially the last minutes of the work is very impressive, the harmonies of the composer are very amazing, the work ends with a tragic mood. Still, this music written in darkful E-flat minor.And last, the composer's last and one of the most succesful works: Tapiola. As you know, Tapio is the forest god in Finnish epic Kalevala and this is a very majestic music, the storm scene is very influenced.There are very impressive contrasts between light (hypnotic and hesitated) colours and darkful passages. Marvellous orchestration...These performances are very good. Still, Neeme Jarvi and his Gothenburg SO recorded Sibelius' complete orchestral works released on BIS Records, also. This is an essential recording and highly recommended."