Works for Violin and Piano: Pieces, Opp. 78, 81, 115 & 116; Danses champêtres, Op. 106; Andante cantabile
Fenella Humphreys (violin), Joseph Tong (piano)
Resonus RES 10294 67:32 mins
Sibelius’s urbane streak, plus the need to supplement earnings in difficult times, had him producing numerous smaller works that he liked to call ‘sandwiches’, to sell mostly to local publishers in his native Finland. He was an accomplished violinist, good enough to have performed the Mendelssohn Concerto in his student years, and always a touch regretful that his early ambitions as a soloist hadn’t worked out. Fenella Humphreys’s selection of his violin and piano music includes one item, an Andante cantabile in G major, from the young composer’s copious chamber-music output (his cello-playing brother and pianist sister were near-prodigies like himself). The quality material begins with the two sets of pieces Opp 79 and 81 – written while Sibelius was effectively marooned in Finland during the First World War – and the Danses champêtres Op. 106. Highlights here include a finely sustained and quite extended ‘Religioso’ (Op. 78 No. 3).
But the remarkable discoveries are in the Opp. 115 and 116 groups dating from 1929. The level of imagination at work here – as in ‘Die Glocken’ (The Bells) Op. 115 No. 4, with its tolling piano figure and quicksilver violin figuration swirling around it – is as startling as in Sibelius’s theatre music for The Tempest, written a few years earlier. From start to finish Humphreys’s playing is a feast of flawless tuning, beautifully focused and coloured tone and rich characterisation. And there’s no mistaking how Joseph Tong’s accompanying, always immaculate in the earlier pieces, responds vividly to the stronger material in the later ones.