In the Stream of Life: Gerald Finley performs songs by Sibelius

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: In the Stream of Life (orch. Rautavaara); Pohjola’s Daughter; The Oceanides; Romance in C; Songs – selection
PERFORMER: Gerald Finley (bass-baritone); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5178 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Sibelius springboarded the late Einojuhani Rautavaara’s career by recommending him for a scholarship to New York’s Juilliard School. His reverence for the older composer shows in this song cycle In the Stream of Life he orchestrated for his friend Gerald Finley. Singers such as Soile Isokoski and Jorma Hynninen have shown how effective such orchestrations can be, whether Sibelius’s own or those by Jussi Jalas and others. Rautavaara’s, though, are different, reflections on Sibelius’s own style rather than mere pastiche. Choosing mostly less famous songs (except ‘Svarta Rosor’ – Black Roses), he weaves around Sibelius’s sparely lyrical lines distinctly Rautavaaran harmonics, brooding, atmospheric, often subtly contrasting, as in ‘Die Stille Stadt’ and ‘Nacken’. They’re made for Finley’s voice, less robustly heroic than familiar Finnish baritones, but always mellifluous and refined in his effects, his words – German and Swedish – keenly shaded. He’s equally fine in the songs orchestrated by other hands, many, like Diamonds in March Snow, more associated with female voice. The swashbuckling, Finnish-language Rapid-Rider’s Brides, a quasi-tone-poem with references to the Four Legends, he delivers to ringing effect.

The Bergen orchestra supports him ably, but the least remarkable performances are conductor Edward Gardner’s tone poems. Pohjola’s Daughter, though painstakingly detailed, feels slack, lacking the sense of high peril caught by the likes of Robert Kajanus (its dedicatee), Beecham and Gibson. The more Impressionist Oceanides is preferable, but again there’s better. It’s Finley and Rautavaara, at Sibelius’s service, who make this a highly memorable disc.

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Michael Scott Rohan