Sibelius: Songs for unaccompanied male voice choir (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Songs for unaccompanied male voice choir (complete)
PERFORMER: Helsinki University Chorus/Matti Hyökki
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-49774-2
These two CDs collect together Sibelius’s songs for male voice choir, presenting them in chronological order beginning with ‘The Boat Journey’ of 1893 and ending with the 1929 setting, his second, of the ‘Marching Song of the Brothers of Viipuri’, and for good measure the wartime arrangement of the Finlandia hymn from 1940. Sibelius wrote extensively for this medium and one of his most inspired works, Rakastava for strings and percussion, began life in this form. Generally speaking his partsongs are short (most last less than two minutes) and offer music of the highest quality. Many have an affecting simplicity that resonates in the memory long after.

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Just as the solo songs are settings of Swedish (all but five) the majority of Sibelius’s a cappella pieces are to Finnish texts. The Op. 84 set dating from the First World War is an exception: both ‘A dream chord’ and ‘Eternal Eros’ are harmonically rich and haunting partsongs which are well served by this celebrated Finnish choir. Matti Hyökki, who provides exemplary and scholarly notes, coaxes beautifully articulate performances from his singers, with a refined tonal blend and expressive range. Perhaps ‘The Boat Journey’ is a bit brisk and I did not warm to the rather strained soloist in the last of the Rakastava group. For the most part, however, this set will give pleasure and the music itself is little heard outside Scandinavia and its treasures need the widest dissemination. Robert Layton