LEBRECHT LISTENING | Sibelius’ “orchestral songs” are as clear as a glass of ice water

Marianne Beate Kielland (from CD cover); Jean Sibelius (Photo: Ivar Rafael Helander/CC0C 4.0)

Jean Sibelius: Orchestral Songs (LAWO Classics)


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Sibelius, like Mahler, stuck to what he knew. He wrote no operas and almost no chamber music, just symphonies and songs. Its concentration of means and expression is as intense in a two-minute song as in a 40-minute symphony.

Unlike Mahler, Sibelius spares his orchestration, sometimes relying on solo clarinet and bass strings. He uses Swedish texts, only rarely returning to his national language, Finnish, which he spoke imperfectly. Sibelius songs are rarely heard in the Baltic, which is a shame because they tell us more about him than yet another season opener. Finland. In all, Sibelius has written 109 songs. I challenge you to name three.

The Norwegian Radio Orchestra delivered an 18-track cooler with the excellent mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kjelland as soloist. The themes are the Arctic, cruel and cold nature. From time to time, a visitor stops in front of a child’s sickbed; like him, you fear that the child will die (Sibelius lost his youngest daughter in February 1900).

Two great song cycles, Ops 17 and 36, belong to the turn of the century, the time of his first two symphonies and his violin concerto, a time of bereavement-induced addiction to alcohol and tobacco. . The songs, however, are as clear as a glass of ice water (a favorite Sibelius metaphor) and these tales are exemplary and uplifting. I don’t know where Ms. Kjelland has been hiding, but I wish she came out more; she has a wonderful instrument. As for the radio orchestra under Czech conductor Petr Popelka, they match the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra for lush textures.

Name a song? Rose Svartaopus 36/1, accompanies me to the shower.

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