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Sibelius: Incidental Music / Kapp, Philharmonia Virtuosi


Release Date: 10/25/2005 
Label:  Ess.a.y Recordings   Catalog #: 1091   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


"Kapp and his players have given us incredibly heartfelt music-making that recalls the lushly romantic manner of Stokowski at its finest... Everything here is performed with impassioned sensitivity and intense concentration...this is one of the most heart-warming CDs to ever come my way..."

Everything here is top-drawer Sibelius. The incidental music to Pelleas and Melisande was premiered in 1905. It’s based on the same Maeterlinck play that also inspired works by Debussy, Fauré, and Schoenberg. Kuolema (“Death”) was written for a play by Sibelius’s brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt, who later (1943) recorded a haunting account of the
Read more Sibelius Violin Concerto with Finnish violinist Anja Ignatius (Symposium). Rakastava (“The Lover”), according to Kapp’s informative liner notes, “was originally a choral suite composed in 1894, when Sibelius was not yet 30. What we hear is his reworking of the music, almost 20 years later, for string orchestra with timpani and triangle.”

The Pelleas and Melisande suite is presented in nine impressionistic vignettes. “At the Castle Gate,” with its richly inflected opening for strings, represents the opening of the main gate at King Arkel’s castle. “Melisande,” in its delicate English horn over gently sighing strings, portrays Melisande weeping by a forest spring, and the music evolves into a gentle waltz. In “By the seashore,” churning basses suggest a restless sea, with woodwinds circling like birds overhead. “By a spring in the park” is a cheerful waltz with some dark undercurrents. A pensive song of diminishing hope is heard in “The three blind sisters.” A lovely Pastorale portrays a serene landscape, with flutes like flying birds over pizzicato strings. “Melisande at the Spinning Wheel” has ominous drumming eruptions that offset sighing strings and piquant winds. The following Entr’acte is the happy music that precedes the doomed couple’s clandestine meeting in the park. The suite concludes with the sadly beautiful strains of “Melisande’s Death.”

The four selections from Kuolema begin with the ubiquitious “Valse triste,” Sibelius’s single most popular composition. “Scene with Cranes” is one of the composer’s finest works, and its evocative opening surely inspired the expressive string-writing heard in Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Hitchcock films, especially the lyric moments of Vertigo and Psycho. The wistful Canzonetta was much admired by Stravinsky, who in 1963 arranged it for a small brass ensemble. “Valse romantique” is just that: warm, graceful and inviting. The suite from Rakastava is in three sections: “The Lover,” “Path of the Beloved,” and “Goodnight, Farewell.” As Kapp observes, the second section “takes on the character of a ‘perpetuum mobile,’” while the last section replaces the original tenor solo “with dark-hued timbres of a much subdivided orchestra.”

This disc represents my first encounter with Richard Kapp and his New York-based chamber orchestra Philharmonia Virtuosi. The CD booklet contains no information on the conductor or his ensemble, but after a little “Googling” on the Internet, I discovered an intriguing interview with Kapp on the Fred Flaxman homepage. ESS.A.Y is a “boutique” label, and conductor/pianist Kapp is its president and sole employee. Kapp comes from a prominent family in the record business: one of his uncles founded American Decca, while another started the eponymous Kapp Records back in the 1950s (one of that rather short-lived label’s notable LP offerings was an excellent recording of the Ravel Quartet performed by the great Paganini Quartet). According to Kapp, “ESS.A.Y’s mission is to create recordings you listen to more than once.” After half a dozen sessions with this remarkable CD, I can attest that ESS.A.Y’s mission has been amply fulfilled here.

These readings come from live concerts 1999–2000, an economic imperative for a small label like ESS.A.Y. The recorded sound is warm and full: it’s almost a conductor’s perspective, which, in combination with the reduced orchestral forces, provides a wealth of detail not heard elsewhere. Since most of my favorite Sibelius interpreters hail from half a century or more ago (e.g., Kajanus, Schnéevoigt, Collins, Stokowski, Beecham), it was a genuine pleasure to hear these scores presented in such excellent sound. My CD benchmarks for the works here are the live 1955 Beecham/Royal Philharmonic Pelleas and Melisande on BBC Legends (despite the curious omission of “By the seashore” and a dreadfully noisy audience), the Kuolema conducted by Sibelius’s son-in-law Jussi Jalas (London), and the Barbirolli/Hallé version of Rakastava in that conductor’s uneven set of all seven symphonies (EMI). And, of course, I have numerous stand-alone versions of “Valse triste,” including the eminently brisk and straightforward accounts by Rosbaud (DG) and Otterloo (Mercury Wing LP).

At the risk of outright gushing, I must say that I now prefer these eloquent concert readings by Kapp and the Philharmonia Virtuosi to all of my previous favorites. Kapp and his players have given us incredibly heartfelt music-making that recalls the lushly romantic manner of Stokowski at its finest. Listening to the heart-breaking pathos in this account of “Melisande’s Death” reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It was only after hearing this exquisite rendition of “Scene with Cranes” that I ever even noticed the music’s profound influence on Herrmann’s film scores. Everything here is performed with impassioned sensitivity and intense concentration. As these are live recordings, there are a few awkward transitions and some coughs from the audience. But, in short, this is one of the most heart-warming CDs to ever come my way. I can only express my appreciation to Kapp and his wonderful ensemble by quoting the redoubtable Mr. Spock: “Live long, and prosper.” Highest recommendation.

FANFARE: Jeffrey J. Lipscomb

This is a collection of live performances from 1999 and 2000 showcasing Richard Kapp's considerable flair for Sibelius...Kapp makes telling use of the band's strengths, highlighting its colorful and pungent woodwind section--a vital component in this music. The strings are no slouches either, as Kapp makes clear with the lush carpet of sound at the opening of Pelleas & Melisande, and with the beautiful timbre he cultivates for Kuolema's "Scene with Cranes" and in the Rakastava Suite. Even more than his attention to the music's texture, Kapp is distinctly alert to its rhythms, whether in Valse Triste's grimly graceful lilt, or the lively jaunt of Pelleas' Entr'acte. The Virtuosi musicians play with vibrant energy and imagination, clearly relishing this delightful music. Essay's close-perspective recording affords intimate detail, though this comes at a slight loss of depth and space. In sum, an uncommon Sibelius disc that's well worth hearing.

--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 46 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1905; Finland 
Date of Recording: 02/07/1999 
Length: 23 Minutes 57 Secs. 
2. Kuolema: Valse triste, Op. 44 no 1 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1904; Finland 
Date of Recording: 02/06/2000 
Length: 5 Minutes 10 Secs. 
3. Kuolema: Scene with Cranes, Op. 44 no 2 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1906; Finland 
Date of Recording: 02/06/2000 
Length: 4 Minutes 20 Secs. 
4. Kuolema: Canzonetta, Op. 62a by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1920; Finland 
Date of Recording: 02/06/2000 
Length: 3 Minutes 13 Secs. 
5. Kuolema: Valse romantique, Op. 62b by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1920; Finland 
Date of Recording: 02/06/2000 
Length: 3 Minutes 35 Secs. 
6. Rakastava, Op. 14: Suite for String Orchestra, Triangle and Timpani by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Richard Kapp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911-1912; Finland 
Date of Recording: 10/29/2000 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Would be 5 star without Rakastava problems January 24, 2013 By E. Jarvi (Ballwin, MO) See All My Reviews "The two rviews are fairly accurate. These are not well know pieces to all, but can be easily found on other discs. The program is well planned, but is somewhat ruined by audience noise at the end. Thus I never play the Rakastava tracks on this. It sounds like an object fell on the floor." Report Abuse
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