Sibelius: Piano Pieces, Opp. 75, 85, 103; Five Romantic Pieces, Op. 101; Cinq esquisses, Op. 114

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Pieces, Opp. 75, 85, 103; Five Romantic Pieces, Op. 101; Cinq esquisses, Op. 114
PERFORMER: Kyoko Tabe (piano)
Sibelius’s piano music has had a generally bad press. It has not enjoyed the advocacy of any major international pianist except, most notably, Wilhelm Kempff and Glenn Gould. Yet when it is sensitively played, as it is here, the effect can be quite persuasive. Of course, by the exalted standards he set elsewhere, it is limited both in range and resource but Glenn Gould’s verdict that Sibelius never wrote ‘against the grain of the keyboard’ is completely on target. The Finnish composer Palmgren, who was a good pianist himself, put it perfectly when he wrote ‘even in what for him were alien regions, he moves with an unfailing responsiveness to tone colour’, a phrase which came to mind when I was listening to this new disc. Kyoko Tabe is an accomplished and sensitive artist who makes the most of these miniatures without making too much of them. The Opp. 75 and 85 pieces come from the early years of the First World War and the remainder from the Twenties. Op. 114 was the last set he wrote for the instrument and was actually refused for publication by Carl Fischer of New York in 1929. There is charm, not only in the earlier sets devoted to flowers and trees, but in the later vignettes. And there are some characteristic inspirations in the ‘Winter Scene’ and the haunting ‘Song in the Forest’ from Op. 114, which make Fischer’s reaction all the more surprising. The Chandos recording is completely lifelike and natural. Robert Layton