Sibelius: Karelia; Kuolema; Valse triste

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Karelia; Kuolema; Valse triste
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-915
The Karelia Suite and Valse triste are among Sibelius’s most popular works. Yet the stage music in which they originated – for an 1893 patriotic pageant celebrating the history of Finland’s border zone with Russia, and for a 1903 symbolist play, Kuolema (Death) – is virtually unknown. This thoughtfully prepared and documented volume of BIS’s complete Sibelius cycle presents the first (and in these cases, not very different) versions of the famous pieces in their original contexts, and reveals much equally characteristic and memorable surrounding music, not all of it suitable for concert performance, but not deserving oblivion either.

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Sibelius partly destroyed his manuscript of Karelia and some of the orchestral parts, but made an improved version of one tableau. This performing edition has been judiciously reconstructed by one of Finland’s leading contemporary symphonists, Kalevi Aho. Whereas it inhabits the Romantic nationalism of the Suite, the Kuolema score is fragile, elusive, magical in expression. The original Valse triste had an awkwardly foreshortened ending (the published version is included for comparison) and the other concert number (the Scene with Cranes) was skilfully fashioned out of two different, evanescent numbers. Vänskä and his Lahti orchestra are justly famed for the refinement of their performances, exquisitely captured here. Calum MacDonald