Sibelius: Songs, Opp. 36, 37 & 50

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs, Opp. 36, 37 & 50
PERFORMER: Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Julius Drake (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67318
Katarina Karnéus starts as she doesn’t mean to go on: with a Finnish song by Sibelius. ‘Illalle’ (To Evening) is a rare treat, simply because, as far as song-setting was concerned, Sibelius’s literary heart beat in Swedish. And, apart from six of his German-language songs, ‘Illalle’ forms a little prelude to this generous recital of Sibelius’s song-settings in Swedish, dominated by the poetry of his beloved Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

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In this repertoire, the voice of Karita Mattila inevitably echoes in the ears. Karnéus is a lighter, finer wine, yet no less expressively heady. Her perfectly integrated and focused mezzo, with its flaming top, and dark, gleaming lower register, has a fiercer intensity, too, than earlier albeit irresistible performances by Anne Sofie von Otter. As the young girl returns from ‘The Tryst’, with hands and lips red, but cheeks pale, the sensual details of the song become passionately present within the powerful frame and structure built by Julius Drake’s piano accompaniment.

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Sibelius loved the work of the poet and painter Ernst Josephson, too. And Karnéus is clearly enraptured by the rhapsodic roll and rise of his ‘Black Roses’, and by the dark, visionary song about ‘The Watersprite’, a creature who returns to haunt the dark Runeberg postlude of this compellingly shaped and hugely accomplished recital.