Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Unknown Sibelius
Track listing at end of review
BIS BIS-CD-2065 [79:17]
Masonic Ritual Music Op.113
(1) original version for tenor, male voice choir and organ
(2) arrangement by Jaakko Kuusisto for tenor, orchestra and organ (2007)
Track listing at end of review
BIS BIS-CD-1977 [72:05]
Bis, after ascending to undisputed heights in its Sibelius Edition, continues with forays that overlap with and fill in around that 68-disc, 13-box edifice. Here are the latest two.
The Unknown Sibelius presents music from among the least known of the Finnish master’s production. These fall into two categories: either belonging to genres not usually associated with ‘Sibelius the symphonist’, or because they appear in versions that differ from the ones that are performed commonly. A case in point is the opening Finland Awakes, a rarely heard version of what is Sibelius’ best-known piece, Finlandia. Here the famous ‘hymn’ tune is restated in full, scored with unashamed flamboyance for brass, at the end of the piece. That recording and others on this disc are culled from the Edition brought to fruition in 2011.
Completeness is a nuanced concept: a ‘complete’ edition is only complete until the next mislaid manuscript or forgotten work is re-discovered. The present discs thus serve a dual purpose. The first one also includes première recordings of works and fragments that have been discovered or otherwise have become available after volume 13 was issued. Among these, the four late orchestral fragments earned celebrity in October 2011, as media across the world greeted the discovery of what were soon proclaimed as sketches for the famed 8th Symphony - that elusive Holy Grail of all Sibelius-spotters. Dr. Timo Virtanen, the respected authority on Sibelius, prepared the sketches for the present recording and also wrote an explanatory essay - available on the BIS web site. There he discusses them and the context in which they may have been written. Inevitably there is a significant degree of speculation and circumstantial conclusions. These four fragments (1930-57) are very brief but also intriguing. They tend towards the harmonically bold sound-world that Sibelius explored in some of his very late works - I thought more than once about the music for The Tempest. These are conducted by Karajan protégé and Sibelius veteran Okko Kamu. He recorded the first three symphonies to complement the Karajan instalments of the DG cycle. How long, I wonder, before we get a speculative realisation of the “eighth symphony” in the manner of Elgar 3, the Elgar Piano Concerto and Moeran 2. Don’t despair but I would queue to hear it.
Finland Awakes is substantially similar to Finlandia, Sibelius's best known piece. It shares its title with the last panel in a set of historical tableaux from 1899. What we hear is not the original but an intermediate version written late in 1899. Its progress is generally familiar but there are some tangy differences of detail especially towards the end where the composer expresses himself through material related to the grandly rhetorical gestures of the Second Symphony. It's well worth hearing, especially the confident brass and heart-soaring strings. It is included in the earlier orchestral volumes of the Sibelius Edition.
The original Yale version of The Oceanides has also appeared before on Bis - both in one of the boxes and individually. Its delicacy is what radiates from this version. Inevitably it sounds familiar from the final version but has sufficient detail to differentiate and to stimulate the dedicated Sibelian. There is some lovely unfamiliar material, especially during the first five minutes. It starts with something approaching the delicacy of Luonnotar, written in 1913 for the Three Choirs the year before, and of the later Sixth Symphony. It is not drastically inferior to the final version even if the Yale Oceanides is looser and more rhapsodic and ends without the ineluctable compulsion of the score we all know. Strangely enough, it remains a rarity in the concert hall in whatever version.
Of the songs Juntunen's Jag kysser is a quicksilver thing contrasting with Suovanen's soulfully melancholy Tule tule. Tanken for mezzo duo is nicely done by Von Otter and Groop in something close to a unison. The two Italian folksong arrangements for Hynninen and the Dominante choir are jolly simplicities and the first of them sounds more Austrian oompah than Neapolitan carefree.
Fridolin's Folly is for men's choir and recalls the sweeter blandishments of the Brahms Volkslieder but with something of the Finlandia hymn woven in. It's a thoughtful piece by comparison with the animated rhythmic fun experienced through Jonah's Voyage, also for men's choir.
Then we move to the 1887 Serenata for two violins and cello. This single movement squaring up close to seven minutes is typically melodious and this time sentimental. It looks forward to Valse Triste while having its feet planted foursquare in mulch that would have been familiar to the mature Smetana.
Sibelius's incidental music has done well in various suites and arrangements. The least known of those scores is Odlan (The Lizard) which here is represented by a short scene 1 (2:43) and a very long Scene 2 (14:12). The music is for a play by Michael Lybeck and is sable twilight stuff, often heavy with crepuscular threat. It's surprisingly subtle but woven from web-strewn, inky expressionist caverns. Fascinating stuff. Apart from a few trembling passages that may remind you of En Saga this music is likely to puzzle the Sibelian generalist. Towards the end of the second movement moonlight breaks feebly through and a melos recalling Schumann melts around the jagged branches. Sinister stuff - F.W. Murnau would have loved this.
Next comes a sequence of solo piano pieces. The easygoing 1889 Andantino has a gentle Iberian accent around its shapely MacDowell-like structure. The big 1893 Impromptu progresses through episodes of pearlescent, rippling Lisztian display. It will gladden the hearts of virtuoso executants with a taste for Godowsky. It’s also no stranger to meek and pulse-calming poetry. The pensive 1907 Adagio in E minor is in touch with the majesty of the Second Symphony. Like the Andantino and the Impromptu it here receives its world premiere recording. The piano four hands Adagio of 1931 is dedicated “to my beloved Aino”. Its dark harmonies are those of the mature composer adding depth to an otherwise chiming and measured confidence.
The texts of the songs and translations into English are printed in the booklet.
We move onwards to the second CD which is just as well documented in its liner booklet.
Sibelius’s Masonic Ritual Music in its version with organ has been recorded before by Fuga. The original version that we hear on this Bis disc is, as far as I can see, the same one that appeared in 2011 in volume 13 of the Bis Sibelius Edition. This will serve to make it accessible to those who have chosen to follow Bis’s guiding star as each individual CD has come out. In addition they will be rewarded with something not included in the Volume 13 box: Jaakko Kuusisto’s 2007 arrangement of the Masonic Ritual Music for tenor, orchestra and organ.
Let’s start with the original. This is often strange and austere as if a reflection of the darker musings of Caliban in The Tempest. Similar sounds echo around the organ part which is suggestive of the strange wind harmonies in The Tempest (tracks 5-6). The solo tenor in track 3 sounds deliberately severe, strained, operatic and striving for great things. Some of this music (track 16) has a very appealing innocence and animation. For example, the mood lightens in track 8 - Christmassy and light-filled. It recalls the Sibelius of the King Christian II music. Track 11 is unnerving - it is a conventional organ march with overtones of a modern evangelical hymn. Speaking of hymns, tracks 14 and 17 either quote or hint at Finlandia. Track 13 is more intriguing - even ambivalent. We hear some ‘squelchy’ triple forte organ fury with, at 1:19, some typically grave yet airy Sibelian gestures.
The arrangement for orchestra does add some well calculated Sibelian colour. The French horns in track 19 are striking while track 21 yields some strikingly dark Sibelian sounds. Those King Christian II moments mentioned above are pleasurably brought out in this orchestral edition. The hymnal moments sound even more Finlandia-like in Kuusisto’s orchestration. On the other hand when we get to track 24 the music takes on the flavour of Ronald Binge in irresistible mock-Tudor antiquarian mode. Track 25 is a glorious addition to the Sibelius oeuvre - very strong indeed with that indomitable impulse we know from Sibelius’s great works. Track 28 opens with a nice high note for the French horn, milky and sweetly rounded. A pity we do not know the name of the horn player.
There are good, if often staid and severe things here amongst music which evidently meant a great deal to the composer. The orchestral edition is worth hearing. Kuusisto has done well in emulating the Sibelius sound.
Neither of these discs is anywhere near the place to start your Sibelius collection. However, if your Sibelius habit has gone viral you will need to have them and there are rewards to be had and heard.
Previous review (Masonic): Dan Morgan
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The Unknown Sibelius
1. Finland Awakes (1899?) 8'27
2. Aallottaret (The Oceanides - Yale Version), Op.73 (1914) 7'25
3. Jag kysser dig [och ledsnar] ej [I Kiss You and Weary Not](1889-91) 0'54
4. Tule, tule kultani [Come, Come, My Sweetheart] 1'14
5. Tanken [The Thought] 1'29
Italian Folk Song Arrangements, JS99 (1897-98)
6. 1. Oje Carulì [Oh Caroline] 2'49
7. 2. Trippole trappole 1'57
8. Fridolins dårskap [Fridolin’s Folly], JS84 (1917) 2'27
9. Jone havsfärd [Jonah’s Voyage], JS100 (1918) 2'29
10. Serenata, JS169 (1887) 6'53
Ödlan (The Lizard), Op.8 (1909)
11. Scene No.1. Adagio - Più adagio 2'43
12. Scene No.2. Grave - Adagio 14'12
13. Andantino in D major for piano (1889) 2'54
14. Impromptu in B minor for piano (c.1893) 7'12
15. Adagio in E major for piano, JS13 (1907) 1'50
16. Adagio for piano four hands, JS161 (1931) 4'29
Four Orchestral Fragments (1930-57)
17. HUL 1325 1'19
18. HUL 1326/9 0'18
19. HUL 1326/10 0'24
20. HUL 1327 1'09
21. Processional, Op.113 No.6 (1927, orch. 1938) 3'41
Helena Juntunen (soprano); Monica Groop (mezzo); Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo); Gabriel Suovanen (baritone); Jorma Hynninen (baritone); Laura Vikman (violin); Jyrki Lasonpalo (violin); Jaakko Kuusisto (violin); Anna Kreetta Gribajcevic (viola); Taneli Turunen (cello); Eero Munter (double bass); Bengt Forsberg (piano); Folke Gräsbeck (piano); Peter Lönnqvist (piano); Orphei Drängar; Dominante Choir; Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Okko Kamu; Seppo Murto; Osmo Vänskä; Robert Sund
Masonic Ritual Music
1. Avaushymni (Opening Hymn) 1927/E flat major 2'26
2. Avaushymni (Opening Hymn) 1948/G major 2'09
3. Alttarin valmistus: Suloinen aate (Adjusting the Altar: Thoughts Be Our Comfort) 1'47
4. Alttarin valmistus: Suloinen aate (Adjusting the Altar: Thoughts Be Our Comfort) 2'05
I°. Kulkue ja hymni (First Degree. Procession and Hymn)
5. Kulkue (Procession) 2'49
6. Hymni: Näätkö, kuinka hennon yrtin (Hymn: Though Young Leaves Be Green) 1'33
7. Ylistyshymni (Hymn) 2'17
II°. Kulkue ja hymni (Second Degree. Procession and Hymn)
8. Kulkue (Procession) 2'23
9. Hymni: Kellä kaipuu rinnassansa (Hymn: Whosoever Hath a Love) 2'06
10. Veljesvirsi (Ode to Fraternity) 2'28
III°. Kulkue ja hymni (Third Degree. Procession and Hymn)
11. Kulkue (Procession) 3'19
12. Hymni: Ken kyynelin (Hymn: Who Ne’er Hath Blent His Bread with Tears) 1'26
13. Surumarssi (Marche funèbre) 5'56
14. Salem (Onward, Ye Brethren) 2'46
15. Suur’ olet, Herra (Ode) 1'51
16. On kaunis maa (How Fair Are Earth and Living!) 1'56
17. Finlandia-hymni (Finlandia Hymn) 2'06
18. Avaushymni (Opening Hymn) 2'08
19. Alttarin valmistus: Suloinen aate (Adjusting the Altar: Thoughts Be Our Comfort) 1'58
20. I°. Kulkue ja hymni: Näätkö, kuinka hennon yrtin (First Degree. Procession and Hymn: Though Young Leaves Be Green) 2'38
21. Ylistyshymni (Hymn) 2'44
22. II°. Kellä kaipuu rinnassansa (Second Degree: Whosoever Hath a Love) 1'48
23. Veljesvirsi (Ode to Fraternity) 2'55
24. III°. Kulkue ja hymni: Ken kyynelin (Third Degree. Procession and Hymn: Who Ne’er Hath Blent His Bread with Tears) 3'26
25. Surumarssi (Marche funèbre) 4'50
26. Salem (Onward, Ye Brethren) 2'57
27. Suur’ olet, Herra (Ode) 2'22
28. On kaunis maa (How Fair Are Earth and Living!) 1'48
Hannu Jurmu, tenor; YL Male Voice Choir / Matti Hyökki; Harri Viitanen playing the
Marcussen organ of Helsinki Cathedral
Masonic Ritual Music Op.113 arrangement by Jaakko Kuusisto (2007) for tenor, orchestra and organ
Mika Pohjonen, tenor; Lahti Symphony Orchestra / Jaakko Kuusisto; Pauli Pietiläinen, organ
Mika Pohjonen (tenor); Hannu Jurmu (tenor); Harri Viitanen (organ); Pauli Pietiläinen (organ); YL Male Voice Choir/Matti Hyökki; Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Jaakko Kuusisto