Vol. 2 in BIS' complete Sibelius Edition is given over the Finnish master's chamber music for strings and for strings and piano. Fifty years earlier, this release would've included only the "Voces intimae" string quartet. But BIS' 2007 release includes all four quartets and all four piano trios, plus 35 other works or substantial fragments lasting between 13 seconds to 32 minutes. One thing is instantly clear: Sibelius scholarship has made enormous strides since the mid-twentieth century.
With his seven symphonies the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius marks a high point in the symphonic repertoire of the 20th century. The music evokes the ghostliness of the Finnish landscape, carries an inner strength and depth and proves itself full of technical fi nesse that still poses a challenge for both conductors and performers. For Sibelius “a symphony is not a ‘composition’ in the ordinary sense. Rather, it is a declaration of faith at different stages of one’s life.”
Success was assured for Leila Josefowicz in her 1994 recording debut, for the 17-year-old violinist had performed these works several times before and had perfected her interpretations through constant preparation and presentation. Along with her boundless energy and self-confidence, Josefowicz's skills have placed her at the forefront of violin virtuosi, and this recording is a fascinating record of her precocity. Tchaikovsky's Classically oriented violin concerto is as bright a showpiece as exists in the repertoire. However, Josefowicz's mastery of the brilliant scales and arpeggios is almost secondary to her soulful shaping of the purely melodic material that is at the heart of this intensely lyrical piece.
Finland's Jean Sibelius is perhaps the most important composer associated with nationalism in music and one of the most influential in the development of the symphony and symphonic poem. Sibelius was born in southern Finland, the second of three children. His physician father left the family bankrupt, owing to his financial extravagance, a trait that, along with heavy drinking, he would pass on to Jean. Jean showed talent on the violin and at age nine composed his first work for it, Rain Drops. In 1885 Sibelius entered the University of Helsinki to study law, but after only a year found himself drawn back to music. He took up composition studies with Martin Wegelius and violin with Mitrofan Wasiliev, then Hermann Csillag…
Beethoven reputedly wasn't Beecham's favorite composer, but you wouldn't know it from this performance; it's exceedingly well conceived, highly energetic, and has that unique Beecham sparkle to it. The fillers also are delightful. All recorded in Ascona, Switzerland in 1957.
Recorded in the mid-1970s with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, this classic cycle of symphonies and tone poems firmly established Sir Colin Davis's reputation as one the greatest Sibelius interpreters. Nearly forty years on and the cycle remains as grand and dynamic as ever.