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CD Review

Jean Sibelius

The Essential Orchestral Favorites

  • Valse triste, Op. 44 #1
  • Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49
  • The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22/2
  • Andante festive **
  • Karelia Suite, Op. 11
  • Three Movements from "The Tempest", Op. 109
  • The Oak Tree
  • Caliban
  • Miranda
  • Finlandia, Op. 26 #7
  • Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 *
  • Symphony #2 in D Major, Op. 43
* Pekka Kuusisto, violin
** Finnish Radio Orchestra/Jean Sibelius
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Ondine ODE1265-2D 2CDs 69:34+79:29
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from Find it at JPC

This is a valuable release for any Sibelius fan. Not only is the musical value enormous, but the attached 51-page booklet is filled with rare photos and interesting biographical information. Ondine released an album with this very title a few years back, with many of these same selections. But whereas that disc contained contributions from multiple members of the label's roster, this new set holds only performances from Leif Segerstam's celebrated Sibelius releases. A second disc has also been added to the original package, making the whole project that much more desirable.

There is one notable exception to Segerstam's newfound monopoly, and that is the lone recording of Sibelius as conductor. It's nothing more than a souvenir, unfortunately. While there isn't evidence that he was a bad conductor, the Andante festivo hardly tells us anything about the artist as interpreter. Still, I imagine those who've not heard it will want it, even if it says little about the greatness of the man or composer. The sound is surprisingly good, save for being a little shrill. The Finnish Radio Orchestra plays beautifully.

The other performances are uniformly stunning. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is naturally very much at home in this music, and Segerstam an underrated artist in his own right. Beauty of tone is a hallmark of all of these recordings, they are as atmospheric as any in the catalog. Even Finlandia takes on an unusual nobility and freshness. Selections from "The Tempest" aside, we are all very much spoiled for choice as collectors, but these versions are completely convincing. Music lovers will all find something to cherish in this beautiful and generous project.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman