Summary for the Busy Executive: Suomi, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old Suomi.
Every once in a while, you have to take a chance. With the exceptions of Sibelius, Sallinen, Rautavaara, and Madetoja, I knew none of the composers on the program. Naxos makes things easy on my wallet, so why not try it out?
Most of this stuff I put down as salon music, trifles in A-B-A form. The more familiar composers offer something more – Sibelius with Finlandia and Valse triste, Madetoja's Elegy, Rautavaara's spiky Op. 1, Fiddlers, and Sallinen's Sunrise Serenade. The Sallinen is gorgeous, manages to avoid all the descriptive clichés of the "sunrise" genre, and ends on a quiet wow. Armas Järnfelt, one of Sibelius' brothers-in-law (Sibelius wrote the Valse triste for a play by Armas' brother Arvid) was of Sibelius' generation and a supporter of a Finnish national music. Consequently, his Prelude and Berceuse took me aback a little. The Prelude is a kind of Percy Grainger trot and the Berceuse is more than a bit touched by Grieg. Both are worked with a jeweler's care. Other surprises include Kaski's elegant Prelude in Gb, orchestrated from the piano original by Panula, Klami's hauntingly simple Nocturne, and Kuusisto's slightly Vaughan Williams-y Finnish Prayer.
Odd as it may sound, the Sibelius pieces amount to wasted tracks. The orchestra sounds as if it has played Finlandia in particular a few too many times. They turn in a professional, but pretty flat reading. You can do so much better with so many other performances of both this and the Valse triste. I harbor a sneaking affection for Sony's Ormandy and the Philadelphia. Failing that, I'd go with Barbirolli or Stokowski on EMI, Colin on RCA, or perhaps Vänskä on BIS. During the other pieces, Panula and his players seem to wake up. The program isn't exactly heavy lifting, and its pleasures are quiet ones.
Copyright © 2009, Steve Schwartz