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Friday, August 25, 2017

Jean Sibelius - Scènes Historiques; En Saga (Neeme Järvi)


Composer: Jean Sibelius
  1. Scènes Historiques I, suite for orchestra, Op. 25: 1. All'Overtura
  2. Scènes Historiques I, suite for orchestra, Op. 25: 2. Scena
  3. Scènes Historiques I, suite for orchestra, Op. 25: 3. Festivo
  4. Scènes Historiques II, suite for orchestra, Op. 66: 1. La Chasse. Ouverture
  5. Scènes Historiques II, suite for orchestra, Op. 66: 2. Chant d'amour
  6. Scènes Historiques II, suite for orchestra, Op. 66: 3. Près du pont-levis
  7. En Saga, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 9

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor

Date: 1986
Label: BIS



The dark opening chord of the Scenes historiques already proclaims its author. The Lydian modality and muttering string textures of this overture and the revolving accompaniment to the ceremonial march in the following ''Scena'' suggest a date around the time of the Fourth or Fifth Symphonies. In fact, the first set of the Scenes, although revised in 1911-12, was composed in 1899, the year of the First Symphony and Finlandia (itself originally one of the set). The Op. 66 pieces were indeed composed in the aftermath of the Fourth Symphony, and with hindsight one could point to a greater concentration and more epigrammatic style. But there are fine things in both sets—that ceremonial march haunts me mercilessly, and the halting tenderness of ''At the drawbridge'' (last of the second set) is scarcely less memorable.

Recording and performance on the Chandos issue have been highly praised, and although I have slight preference for the new BIS version, both sound absolutely superb, especially of course on CD—choice may largely depend on the coupling. Neeme Jarvi and Sir Alexander Gibson are in close agreement on tempo and characterization, but the Gothenburg woodwinds are superior in tone and intonation (especially in the last two Scenes) and just occasionally the BIS recording is a franction more realistic (compare the castanets in the curious ''Festivo'' from Op. 25).

I would also recommend the BIS En saga in preference to the others listed, though again by no great margin, since all have considerable merit. Jarvi seems to judge the weight of his reading perfectly at each stage—the unexpectedly measured tread at fig. H pays great dividends later on. Interestingly enough, his is the only performance which sounds in the right key at the end—with Ashkenazy (Decca) and Berglund (HMV) the fuller sonority of the pedal E flat sets up an unwanted overtone tierce de picardie; with Davis (Philips) an overtone from the cymbal roll creates a peculiar kind of added sixth. Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia come up with both the most exciting and the most questionable features—undeniable magnificence in the Berliozian surge after fig. Q, but a piu lento instead of a tempo after fig. O which makes for a fatal sag in the structure. In this music the view of the whole can redeem miscalculations in detail, but not the other way round. The Chandos record is completed by fine performances of Rakastava and the Valse lyrique, the former, as RL noted, with a rather slow last movement, and the latter not Sibelius at his finest. A minor annoyance on the Jarvi LP is the narrowness of bands between individual pieces.

-- Gramophone

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Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957) was a Finnish violinist and composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. His music contributed to the development of a feeling of national identity in Finland where he is now celebrated as the country's greatest composer. Sibelius is widely known for his seven symphonies, the violin concerto and the tone poems, especially Finlandia and the Karelia suite. Throughout his career, the composer found inspiration in nature and Nordic mythology. He almost completely stopped composing after 1920s and did not produce any large-scale works in his last thirty years.


Neeme Järvi (born June 7, 1937 in Tallinn) is an Estonian conductor. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory under Yevgeny Mravinsky and Nikolai Rabinovich, among others. He made over 400 recordings for labels such as BIS, Chandos and Deutsche Grammophon and best known for his interpretations of Romantic and 20th century classical music. In 1982, he became the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, and held the post for 22 years, the longest-serving principal conductor in the orchestra's history.


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