Sibelius, Tone Poems -----> Classical Music Reviews
Sibelius Tone Poems Iceland Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Petri Sakari

Pohjola’s Daughter, Op 49 The Oceanides, Op 73 Tapiola, Op 112 En Saga, Op 9 The Bard, Op 64

Recorded in Reykjavik, Iceland 19-23 June 2000 Naxos 8.555299 [70’04”]

This excellent release brings together a selection of the tone poems of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), both well known and less familiar. These are often used as fillers on recordings of the Sibelius symphonies, so anybody with any of those magisterial works may already possess several of the pieces recorded here. That is no reason to discount this recording as the tone poems take on a quite different character when listened to amongst only their own kind. These are not just fillers; here is some of the most imaginative composition of that most imaginative of composers. While The Bard (probably the least well-known of the tone poems) is a comparatively short work at 8’07” and thus fits the average conception of the tone poem genre, the early En Saga and the late, great Tapiola, at nearly 19’ each are only a few minutes shorter than Sibelius’ 7th symphony. There is a breadth and scale in these works that demands serious attention. There is also a huge range of orchestral colours, from the absolutely bleak opening basses and bassoons of Pohjola’s Daughter to the swirling gaudy colours of The Oceanides. This latter is, interestingly, the only one of Sibelius’ tone poems to be based on images other than those of Nordic mythology, being centred on the mythology of the ancient Greeks.

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra is clearly well at ease with this repertoire. Listeners may already have encountered their excellent series of Sibelius Symphonies for Naxos, in which case this disc makes an admirably companion. Given the tiny population of Iceland, the fact that the country can maintain an orchestra of this undoubted standard is remarkable indeed. This writer has previously mentioned the odd bit of slightly scrappy string ensemble, but there appear to be no such shortcomings on this new disc. The blend of the orchestra is admirable, and, while the strings are not ‘lush’ in the Vienna or Berlin sense, one gets the feeling that this is now because the sparser, more taut string sound is what Petri Sakari (for seven years Principal Conductor of the ISO) wants. The woodwinds, so vital to the successful interpretation of Sibelius’ music, are individual and characterful. Intonation is excellent.

Tone poems tend to be less rigidly structured than symphonies, so it is easy for the music to amble purposelessly. Throughout, Sakari paces the music with one eye to the detail, and the other fixed on the architectural sweep, always allowing the sense of rise and fall to dominate the mid-ground. Thus his interpretations seem natural and life-like. It is obvious that this compatriot of the composer has become so steeped in this music during a lifetime of living in the shadow of Finland’s most famous son. The result is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. At Naxos prices this release is another absolute winner.

(Peter Wells)

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