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Jean Sibelius - Complete Symphonies

Jean Sibelius

Complete Symphonies

Paavo Berglund

EMI Classics 74485

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Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius
The year is 1945. Europe has been devastated by the greatest war in history. The world is bleak, but with a glimmer of hope.

Sibelius is 80 years old, a dour, intense man, deeply troubled in his final years. His wife Aino stumbles in to find him sitting before the fireplace, a large sheath of manuscripts in a basket. Sibelius is slowly feeding the flames with his music, his final masterpiece, his famed Eighth Symphony.

Why? What would possess a man as great as Sibelius to destroy his greatest creation, his work of 20 years?

Sibelius never really fit in with the musical world. He was always an outsider. He wrote symphonies in the great Romantic style, while his contemporaries Stravinski and Schoenberg were experimenting with new rhythms, new harmonies. Greatly admired in England and the United States, and revered within his native Finland, Sibelius was largely ignored in Europe.

The root of Sibelius' music comes from his deep love of his Finnish heritage, and the northern landscape and soundscape. Nobody captured the bleak beauty of that snow-covered part of the world better than Sibelius. The music speaks the land, based on the great Finnish epic poetry called the Kalevala.

Sibelius wrote seven symphonies, symphonies that were indeed based on the nineteenth century tradition of structure, but they became symphonies like no other. His orchestrations are crystalline, his melodies intensely passionate.

The Seventh symphony was premiered in 1924, and soon after the Finnish government declared Sibelius a national treasure, with a generous pension for life. He publishes just one more work, the Tapiola tone poem, and then seemingly retires from composition. Yet he lives for a further 30 years, 30 years now known as the “The Silence of Järvenpää” (after the town where he lived and died). In 1924, the music stopped.

There is much evidence to suggest that he not only conceived a final Eighth symphony, but actually finished it, had it copied and bound. Yet not a single note exists today.

In 1930, Sibelius promised Serge Koussevitzky the first performance of his Eighth symphony. He promised again in 1931 and then again in 1932. By 1933, Koussevitzky had given up.

Sibelius writes to his wife in 1932 that the new symphony is taking shape, the early movements on paper, the later ones still in his head.

There is a bill dated 1934 from the music copyist Paul Voigt for work on a large set of manuscripts, and that Sibelius visited Voigt several times after that, though always moody and irritated.

There is also the large quantity of music paper that Sibelius is known to have bought in 1933 and then again in 1935.

The Eighth Symphony must have existed. Sibelius himself said that it existed, and was even completed. Yet when anybody would ask about it, as many did, including Eugene Ormandy, Koussevitzky, several biographers and publishers, Sibelius would get very uncomfortable and evasive. He would never provide an answer to satisfy the curiosity.

And then it was gone. Destroyed. Most likely the original manuscript, the copy by Voigt and any sketches that may have remained. What survives now is just a few annotations within the Seventh that hint at the melody of the final symphony.

Sibelius became a very moody man. He was undoubtedly also an alcoholic. He was intense in his beliefs, and extremely self-critical of his own works. The writing of the Eighth Symnphony consumed him, and his last 30 years. He found himself unable, at least within his own mind and his own standards, to match the magnificence of his Seventh Symphony. Composing was his life, but in his final years, it was his enemy.

Aino describes an air of peace and happiness return to her husband after the burning of the manuscripts. A catharsis, a release of responsibility. Sibelius had finally found his freedom.

Paavo Berglund
Paavo Berglund
We are left with seven extraordinary symphonies. Perhaps not as instantly likable as those of Beethoven or Brahms, but music that grows on you. Symphonies that reveal their power slowly, on repeated listening. And then what magnificent sounds reward you!

The Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund has recorded the entire set three times. This set is with the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra, and the huge number of tone poems also included are from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

This represents almost everything Sibelius wrote throughout his lifetime. Some of it very familiar such as the stirring Finlandia and the giddy Valse Triste. Some of it unfamiliar but deserving of much greater fame, especially the two exquisite Serenades for violin and orchestra.

And the legendary recording of the Kullervo based on the epic poetry of the Kalevala, with the Bournemouth Symphony.

Sibelius once said that where other composers would give the audience a cocktail, he would give them just icy spring water. Berglund brings out the crystalline clarity of the music. His interpretations are unique, emphasising all the musical lines separately, and bringing them together as a single work. This recording is startling; even if you know the symphonies and tone poems well, prepare to be astounded by Berglung's rippling strings and sharp winds.

As with all boxed sets, not all it contains will please everybody. And, alas, the violin concerto is not included. But if there is a single set of Sibelius orchestral music, this must be it.

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Track Listing

Jean Sibelius
Complete Symphonies
Complete Tone Poems
and other orchestral music
Helsinki Symphony Orchestra (symphonies)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (tone poems)
Paavo Berglund

8 CD Boxed set, at bargain price
  1. Symphony No. 1, for orchestra in E minor Op. 39
  2. Symphony No. 2, for orchestra in D major, Op. 43
  3. Symphony No. 3, for orchestra in C major, Op. 52
  4. Symphony No. 4, for orchestra in A minor, Op. 63
  5. Symphony No. 5, for orchestra in E-flat major, Op. 82
  6. Symphony No. 6, for orchestra in D minor, Op. 104
  7. Symphony No. 7, for orchestra in C major, Op. 105
  8. The Oceanides (Aallottaret), tone poem, for orchestra, Op. 73
  9. Finlandia, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 26
  10. Tapiola, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 112
  11. Kullervo, symphonic poem, for vocal soloists, male chorus & orchestra, Op. 7
  12. The Oceanides (Aallottaret), tone poem, for orchestra, Op. 73
  13. Karelia Suite, for orchestra, Op. 11 No. 1, Intermezzo
  14. Karelia Suite, for orchestra, Op. 11 No. 3, Alla marcia
  15. Scènes Historiques I (3), suite for orchestra, Op. 25
  16. Tapiola, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 112
  17. Finlandia, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 26
  18. Serenades (2), for violin & orchestra, Op. 69
  19. Serenades (2), for violin & orchestra, Op. 69
  20. Luonnotar (The Spirit of Nature), tone poem for voice & orchestra, Op. 70
  21. Pohjola's Daughter (Pohjolan tytär), symphonic fantasy for orchestra, Op. 49
  22. En Saga, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 9
  23. King Christian II (Kung Kristian II), incidental music & orchestral suite for voice & orchestra, Op. 27
  24. The Bard (Barden), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 64
  25. Spring Song (Vårsång), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 16
  26. The Swan of Tuonela, tone poem for orchestra (Lemminkäinen Suite No. 3), Op. 22/3
  27. Lemminkäinen's Return, tone poem for orchestra Op. 22/4
  28. Pelléas et Mélisande, incidental music for orchestra, Op. 46
  29. Kuolema (Death), incidental music for orchestra (I), Op. 44
  30. Swanwhite

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