Classics Today 10/10, Disc of the Month; Music Web International: outstanding.
Sibelius’s reputation as a master of the orchestra is well founded, but it was with a work that requires not only an orchestra but also soloists and choir – Kullervo – that he made his definitive breakthrough in 1892. He went on to write pieces for choir and orchestra at regular intervals throughout his career. Some of these – though internationally less than well-known – exhibit first-rate invention and craftsmanship; these ‘tone poems with words’ can easily stand comparison with his better-known music. One such work is Snöfrid, an ‘improvisation’ for speaker, mixed chorus and orchestra set to texts by the Swedish poet Viktor Rydberg, one of Sibelius’s preferred authors. Indeed Snöfrid reveals striking parallels in both structure and narrative with another Rydberg setting, namely The Wood-Nymph.
Another work in this category is the cantata Oma maa (My Own Land) for mixed chorus and orchestra. Undertaken by the composer during a difficult chapter in Finland’s history – the civil war which broke out shortly after the declaration of independence in 1917 – the underlying character of the work is one of serenity and optimism – so far removed from the upheavals of the civil war that, with hindsight, it is easy to interpret the work as portending – or at least aspiring towards – a more peaceful future.
Three of the scores recorded on this CD include choir, and a fourth one is actually Sibelius’s own version for string orchestra of a work originally written for male choir a cappella. The reworking of Rakastava (which translates approximately as ‘The Lover’) retains the thematic material of the choral original, but the very idiomatic and rhythmically subtle string writing is wholly characteristic of the mature composer. The third movement features a solo violin and cello, assuming the rôles that vocal soloists had performed in the choral version of the suite.
This 54th volume in the BIS Sibelius Edition again depends on the expertise, and the commitment, of Osmo Vänskä and his Lahti Symphony Orchestra, in bringing these often unfamiliar scores to a wider audience.