* Pelleas & Melisande Suite
* Rakastava Suite
Philharmonia Virtuosi/Richard Kapp
Essay CD1091 Total time: 56:17
Summary for the Busy Executive: More than delightful.
Sibelius wrote most of this music fairly early, before the Third Symphony.
The theater provided a badly-needed source of income to the composer and
his family. He was glad of the work.
Pelleas et Melisande was written for the same Maeterlinck play that
inspired Faure, Schoenberg, the late-Romantic Scottish composer William
Wallace, and, most notably, Debussy. Sibelius's music shows signs of
schizophrenia. On the one hand, you get a kind of general-purpose
Masterpiece Theater toniness in some of the numbers. "At the Castle
Gate," for example, really rises no higher than Edward German. On the
other hand, you get treated to Sibelius's symphonic thinking in others
-- the lurching into themes, the jagged break-offs of phrases, very
apparent in "By the Seashore." Nothing is less than professional here,
but it often rises to something much more. The "Pastorale" is a wonderful
bit of nature-painting, with a bright palette I associate with the Second
I've never understood the affection for the "Valse triste" from Kuolema,
but it became the composer's most popular work. The composer saw a
grand total of five hundred bucks from a piece that made millions for
the publisher. The "Scene with Cranes" I think the superior piece, but
it seems a Sibelian byway. For a revival of the play, decades later,
Sibelius composed two more numbers, and you can bet he negotiated
royalties. Unfortunately, the "Canzonetta" and the "Valse romantique"
never took off.
Rakastava began life as a choral piece, written before the First Symphony.
It's wonderful, but even Sibelians have trouble finding it. Sibelius
rewrote it for strings several years later, expanding themes into separate
movements, and, as such, it has enjoyed some success. I prefer the
choral incarnation (because I'm perverse). Sibelius was a master choral
composer -- just think of Kullervo, the piece he wanted to withdraw --
and the neglect of this area of his output has bewildered me. You can
find the choral music on a terrific two-CD set, North (Nayve 5037), with
the world-class French choir Accentus, conducted by the legendary Eric
Ericson. You also get works by Jersild, Stenhammar, and Rautavaara,
The late, enterprising Richard Kapp and his Philharmonia Virtuosi could
always be counted on for at least interesting programs and wonderful,
intimate music-making. Frequently, they aced out better-known conductors
and groups. Their Pelleas et Melisande is as good as any out there and
shows a deep understanding of Sibelius's artistic world. They put you
in mind of the symphonies and the violin concerto. The recording, by
the way, comes from live concerts. The sound quality may not scale
electronic Everests, but the spontaneity and genuine pleasure in the
music more than make up for this.
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