Sibelius - Luonnotar, Tapiola, Spring Song, Rakastava, Pelleas and Melisande
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Cat No: CHSA5217
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 2nd July 2021
Pelleas and Melisande Suite, op.46
Spring Song, op.16
ArtistsLise Davidsen (soprano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
1Luonnotar, op.70 (1913)
2Tapiola, op.112 (1926)
3Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 1. Vid slottsporten (At the Castle Gate, Prelude to Act I, Scene 1)
4Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 2. Mélisande (Prelude to Act I, Scene 2)
5Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 3. Påstranden vid hafvet (At the Seashore, Melodrama from Act I, Scene 4)
6Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 4. Vid en källa i parken (By a Spring in the Park, Prelude to Act II, Scene 1
7Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 5. De trenne blinda systrar (The Three Blind Sisters, Mélisande's Song from Ac
8Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 6. Pastorale (Melodrama from Act III, Scene 4)
9Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 7. Mélisande vid spinnrocken (Mélisande at the Spinning Wheel, Prelude to A
10Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 8. Mellanaktsmusik (Entr'acte, Prelude to Act IV, Scene 1)
11Pelléas och Mélisande, op.46 (1904-05): 9. Mélisandes död (The Death of Mélisande, Prelude to Act V, Scene 2)
12Rakastava (The Lover), op.14 (1893, rev. 1911-12): 1. Rakastava
13Rakastava (The Lover), op.14 (1893, rev. 1911-12): 2. Rakastetun tie (Den älskades väg/The Path of His Beloved).
14Rakastava (The Lover), op.14 (1893, rev. 1911-12): 3. Hyvää iltaa... Jää hyvästi (God afton... Farväl! / Good Evening!... Farewell!)
15Vårsång (Spring Song), op.16 (1892, rev. 1895, 1902)
The star attraction here is the young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who has been attracting rapt reviews whenever she appears, whether live or on disc, her stunningly powerful yet gorgeously expressive voice hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime musical vehicle. In Luonnotar, Sibelius’s mysterious, compelling setting of the creation myth from the Finnish national epic the Kalevala, she sounds majestically aloof, in a way that suggests the timelessness of the narrative rather than any secular superiority. As she sings of the eponymous Water-Mother, and of the scaup that lays a wondrous egg which, upon breaking, forms the earth and its firmament, it is with an expansiveness (without sluggishness) which suggests that the narrator herself could be the divine being who shapes these events. And yet she brings a pained intensity to the scaup’s exclamation ‘No! No! No!’ as it seeks a nesting place before alighting on Luonnotar’s raised knee. With superbly nuanced playing from the Bergen orchestra, this is a profoundly atmospheric account of this uniquely potent work, and Davidsen’s lustrous voice is fully at the service of the Finnish text while at the same time bringing an extra dimension to the narrative.
The performance of Tapiola is just as involving: Sibelius’s beguilingly monothematic exploration of the realms of the Forest God Tapio needs to combine detachment, earthiness, mystery, magic, a hint of danger and, finally, solace. If Gardner’s performance lacks just the last ounce of enchantment (Sibelius’s epigram to the score speaks of ‘wood-sprites in the gloom’ weaving ‘magic secrets’), the command of sonority and the emphasis on the elemental (epitomised above all by the music’s crucial underlying pedal-points) are spot on, and the stormy climaxes are savage in their impact. There is no sense of stage-managed spotlighting, yet the antiphonal division of the violins, with seconds on the listener’s right, opens up many facets of the accompanimental writing, as if lit by laser-like shards of sunlight from the low northern horizons. The final major-key benediction to this relentlessly minor-key work comes not as a sudden transformation, but as a totally natural consequence of what has preceded it: the forest as shelter and friend. Gardner’s pacing is superb, neither too hurried nor languorous, and the dynamic range and spatial depth (particularly noticeable if you have Surround Sound facilities) are remarkable. This ranks with the finest accounts of Sibelius’s final masterpiece (still with three decades of life left to him!) in recent years, reason enough in itself to hear the disc.
The perceptiveness that Gardner and the Bergen orchestra bring to these two late works spills over into the rest of the programme. In the Suite from the incidental music to Pelléas and Mélisande, countless telling details bring extra dimensions to the music: the double basses’ sul ponticello and the tutti strings’ harmonics in ‘At the Seashore’, and the biting offbeat of the insistent viola Gs in ‘Mélisande at the Spinning Wheel’. The wonderfully jaunty Entr’acte makes the poignancy of ‘Mélisande’s Death’ all the more powerful, while the Suite opens with splendidly rich string tone in ‘At the Castle Gate’, and Davidsen makes a welcome cameo appearance in ‘The Three Blind Sisters’.
By placing the two earliest works last in the running order, Gardner is able to hint at just how they prefigure the mature Sibelius. In Rakastava (‘The Lover), scored for just strings and minimal percussion, the finest details of the scoring are endowed with remarkable expressivity: the ice-cold ppp string figuration in the opening movement, the sorrow-tinged minor-key episodes in the second, and above all the ominous pedal-notes in the closing ‘Farewell’. To close the disc, the early Spring Song (dismissed by Mahler as ‘The quite usual kitsch’!) is affectionately shaped without attempting to make more of it than it is. It serves here rather as a palette-cleanser, as a way of bringing the listener gently out of the spells that have been cast over the rest of the disc, rounding off an album that should delight Sibelians everywhere.
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