Monday 19 March 2018

Rakastava: the music of Sibelius from Chamber Domaine

Sibelius: Rakastava - Chamber Domaine - Resonus
Sibelius Rakastava; Chamber Domaine, Thomas Kemp; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Smaller scale, but not negligible, music for strings and chamber music by Sibelius

Sibelius' symphonies loom so large in his output that the smalle works get far less exposure. Beyond the occasional song, we hear hardly any of this music. On this disc, Thomas Kemp and Chamber Domaine along with Sami Junnonen (flute), Adrian Bradbury (cello), and Sophia Rahman (piano) explore music for string orchestra, and chamber music. The title track is the suite Rakastava Op.14, for strings, timpani and triangle plus other works for strings, Impromptu, Romance in C major and Andante Festivo, the Impromptus Op.5 for piano, Malincolia Op.20 for cello and piano and three arrangements for flute and piano, from Scaramouche Op.71, Nocturne and The Oak Tree Op.109 No.2. These are mature works, Rakastava dates from around the time of the fourth symphony so these are more than just juvenile or early works.

Rakastava started out as a choral work from 1894 setting a poem from Elias Lonnrot's collection of traditional poetry published in 1840, Kanteletar. Then in 1912 Sibelius re-cast the work for string orchestra, very much developing the material. In three movements, Sibelius writing for the strings is far more complex than the original declamatory choral piece. You would not mistake the composer, even in this very concentrated form. This is very much a miniature tone-poem, it is intriguing to try and tease out links between Rakastava and the fourth symphony, and it receives a finely elegant and evocative performance from Chamber Domaine.
Sibelius' Impromptus Op. 5are six short piano pieces from 1893 which are rooted in Finnish folk music, so the influence of the kantele (a folk-instrument that Sibelius played) pops up along with Russian flavours. These are charming pieces but ones which seem to be of interest mainly for the sense we can gain of the development of Sibelius' later music. In 1894 Sibelius would arrange nos. 5 and 6 for string orchestra as Impromptu, the result is quite striking and the move from piano to strings seems to deepen and darken the work.

Sibelius' Malincolia, Op.20 was written in the aftermath of his daughter, Kirsti's death (the work comes between Fantasia and the second symphony). The piece is in fact named for the painting by the symbolist painter Magnus Enckell. At 10 minutes this is the longest single movement on the disc. It opens with a keening cello solo before the piano joins in and writing for both instruments is often taxing, this is very much an equal duo. It receives a fine performance from Adrian Bradbury and Sophia Rahman who both sustain the mood of elegiac despair and regret.

The Romance was written in 1903 at the same time as the second symphony, it is quite a strong work and certainly length is no reflection of power and interest.

The three pieces for flute and piano are arrangements of music from Sibelius' theatre music. The Oak Tree comes from the incidental music from The Tempest (written between 1925 and 1928, the period of Tapiola). The solo from Scaramouche is from 1913 for a pantimime by Paul Knudsen, whilst the Nocturne comes from Belshazzar's Feast written in 1906 for the play by Hjalmar Procope.

Sibelius' Andante Festivo was originally written for string quartet in 1907, and then in 1938 he arranged it for string orchestra. Sibelius conducted the work in 1939 for a broadcast; the only time he conducted a broadcast and a recording of it survives. Despite its name the work is more Andante than festive, a thoughtful piece and in fact Sibelius' own recording of it is slow, intense and deliberate.

This disc is a fascinating side-long glance at the music of Sibelius, shorter and occasional pieces which complement the larger-scale works, in fine performances.

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Rakastava Op.14
Impromptus Op.5
Malinconia Op.20
Romance in C major, Op.42
The Oak Tree. Op.109 No.2
Flute Solo from Scaramouche Op.71
Andante Festivo
Sami Junnonen (flute)
Adrian Bradbury (cello)
Sophia Rahman (piano)
Chamber Domaine
Thomas Kemp (conductor)
Recorded in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 23 March 2017, St Mary's Church, West Malling, Kent, 29 April 2017.
Available from Amazon.

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