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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
String Quartets 1890-1922
Adagio in D minor JS 12 (1890) [12:15]
String Quartet in B flat major op. 4 (1890) [29:42]
String Quartet in D minor Voces Intimae op. 56 (1909) [29:48]
Voces Intimae String Quartet - preliminary ending [0:32]
Andante Festivo JS 34a (1922) [5:11]
Tempera Quartet (Laura Vikman (violin); Silva Koskela (violin); Tiila Kangas (viola); Ulla Lampela (cello))
rec. Länna Church, Sweden, October 2004, October 2005. DDD
BIS CD-1466 [78:50]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a successor to the Tempera Quartet's previous discs of Sibelius's earliest string quartets; BIS-CD-1376 (see review) and BIS-CD-1476 (1885-89 and 1888-89 respectively).

Where it is virtually impossible to pick out the ‘real’ mature Sibelius in some of those early works the individuality begins to show through in these. Amid a thrumming intensity redolent of Dvořák the big 1890 Adagio reaches forward to the avian chuckle of the later works. You can hear this at 5:34. Later a hymnal soulfulness emerges that touches on Finlandia (11:28). It was written in Loviisa.

From the same year comes the B Flat major quartet. It is about the same length as the famous Voces Intimae of 1922. It was started and finished in Loviisa but between those two events there was Sibelius’s visit to Berlin in 1889. The wondrously confident quartet radiates summery joy and again has the boisterous buoyancy of Dvořák even in the sauntering Andante sostenuto second movement. There is then a more obviously Scandinavian Presto which is full of wan yet vivacious gestures. The final anxious Allegro ends calmly. Making his farewells to Loviisa he set off for Vienna where ironically he was to discover the Kalevala and set off a new and overpowering spring of inspiration.

The Voces Intimae quartet was largely written in London where he was fêted by his British circl, Rosa Newmarch, Granville Bantock and Henry Wood. He was anxious and no doubt poor company but there was a reason. This was the time (1909) of his recuperation from the removal of the throat tumour in 1908. In Voces Intimae we catch the earliest intimations of the dark side of his symphonism - to be heard at its masterful apex in the Fourth Symphony of 1911. In fact Voces Intimae, which is in five movements, is far less ‘forbidding’ than the symphony with its romantic crepuscular half-lights. The bustle and breathless flitter of the second movement precedes the long and questioning yet consolatory quasi-Mahlerian Adagio di Molto. The deliberately paced and emphatic Allegretto then stands aside for the buzzing and skittering Allegro which reminds one all the time of the Lemminkainen Return. The famous Andante Festivo of 1922 was written for the 25th anniversary of a factory at Säynätsalo. It's a poised and lovely piece with a hymnal mien. Do I hear in this version the effect of the wheezing harmonium - an instrument included in his earliest family pieces.

It is typical of the Tempera that the unfamiliar and the familiar are here played for all they are worth. There is not a sniff of academic completism about these performances.

The readable and valuable notes are by that BIS stalwart of longstanding, Andrew Barnett; now one of the great Sibelius biographers.

Rob Barnett

Reviews of the BIS Sibelius Edition recordings


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