The 150th Anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), often called “Finland’s national composer”, is to be celebrated in 2015. The fourth album on Ondine by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is dedicated to the composer’s complete works for mixed choir. The award-winning choir, one of the finest of its kind internationally, is conducted here by leading Finnish choir director Heikki Seppa¨nen. Choral music was a genre in which Sibelius showed interest from his student days to the near close of his life. This double-disc set includes patriotic works, works closely connected to the Finnish national epic Kalevala, student works, Christmas songs, works based on Finnish poetry, works written for school (including Three SongsRead more for American Schools) as well as works written for academic promotions, inauguration ceremonies and different official occasions. It also includes two versions of the famous Finlandia Hymn. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir’s first Ondine release was given an ‘Editor’s Choice’ by the Gramophone Magazine and ‘Disc of the Year’ by German weekly Die Zeit.
The Finnish choral tradition was rich and active when Sibelius came of age as a composer in the late 1880s, and he wrote choral works all his life. The pieces on this rewarding recording range from folk songs suffused with Finnish character to enigmatic works with sometimes dark lyrics. There are festival and school songs, patriotic anthems, a cantata for an academic degree ceremony and, inevitably, two versions of “Finlandia.” Most of the pieces are a cappella. Many unfold in clear, block-chord settings of the texts. If you want to stump friends with a guessing game, play the beguiling, slightly strange “Glade of Tuoni” from this recording and ask them to identify the composer. You’ll win, as you will by picking up this album.
Simply BeautifulJuly 9, 2015By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA)See All My Reviews"This two-CD set of Sibelius' mixed choir works encompasses the composer's entire career, ranging from student works of the 1880's to his final choral composition in 1947. The works are in a general chronolical order. The first disc focuses on works written between 1888 and 1902, while the second covers mainly 20th century compositions. Listening straight through, I could hear how Sibelius refined his harmonic structures and his melodies became more sharply defined. It was also illuminating to hear how Sibelius managed to create music of real depth within some very narrow confines. A good portion of the works, for example, were written for amateur choirs. And that usually means limited vocal range and modest rhythmic and harmonic complexity. While Sibelius kept the basic elements simple, he still used them in such a way as to create compelling music that is anything but run-of-the-mill. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir sings with a steely precision that suits this music. Even Sibelius' early works have a Finnish quality to them (I can't think of any other way to describe it). The choir's crystalline ensemble blend rings true with that inherent Finnish character."Report Abuse
Easy listening.June 14, 2015By Richard C. (Lancaster, PA)See All My Reviews"I was not sure what to expect, knowing nothing of his choir music. I bought it for background music in my office. It is perfect for that."Report Abuse
Honest, simple musical craftApril 25, 2015By Dean Frey See All My Reviews"This Sibelius year will perhaps prompt music lovers to look beyond the Violin Concerto, the 7 Symphonies and the major tone poems. Sibelius was in fact a fairly prolific composer, especially considering that in his last thirty years he wrote nearly nothing at all. His catalogue is full of everyday music: commissions for magazines, schools, festivals, hymnals, special ceremonies, and many miscellaneous occasions. There is no great inspiration embedded in most of the music for mixed choir, with a few exceptions, but every piece shows honest, simple musical craft. Conductor Heikki Seppanen brings out all the homespun virtues of the more modest pieces with his excellent Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, while a few outstanding works soar. These include the early song Rakastava, The Lover, from 1893 (arranged for mixed choir in 1898); two perfect Christmas Songs from his op. 1; and, of course, the great anthem Finlandia, two versions of which finish this splendid edition."Report Abuse