This anthology of recordings was entirely drawn from a single album compiled by the late professor of music at a UK university whose extensive collection of 78s was acquired by Pristine Audio some years ago. It supplemented the Sibelius Society collection of some six volumes, and together with a handful of other recordings, represents a pretty successful attempt to bring together just about all of the recordings of Sibelius available to the British record buyer in the 1930s and early 1940s from the two major record companies.
I have kept very closely to the professor's order of discs, merely reversing the two recordings made by Emil Telmanyi and Gerald Moore from their order on a single disc side in order to bring together the two Danses Champêtres. Alas two discs arrived broken - the perpetual peril in shipping shellac discs, and thus we do not have Beecham's RPO Tapiola. However, the rest of the discs survived in remarkably good condition, with very few scratches indeed, and almost no evidence of wear. All possessed the typical 'bacon frying' crackle of British pressings, all replayed well, and swish was remarkable by its general absence. Although there is some difference in sound quality between the earlier and later recordings, all have responded exceptionally well to XR remastering, and sound quality is generally excellent.
Sibelius - Anthology of 78rpm recording
biographical notes from Wikipedia
musical notes by Andrew Rose
Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity.
The core of Sibelius's oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies. Like Beethoven, Sibelius used each one to develop further his own personal compositional style. Unlike Beethoven who used the symphonies to make public statements, and who reserved his more intimate feelings for his smaller works, Sibelius released his personal feelings in the symphonies. These works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and are often recorded.
In addition to the symphonies, Sibelius's best-known compositions include Finlandia, Valse Triste, the violin concerto, the Karelia Suite and The Swan of Tuonela (one of the four movements of the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by the Kalevala, over 100 songs for voice and piano, incidental music for 13 plays, the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, 21 separate publications of choral music, and Masonic ritual music. Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. However, soon after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music to The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he produced no large scale works for the remaining thirty years of his life. Although he is reputed to have stopped composing, he did attempt to continue writing, including abortive attempts to compose an eighth symphony. He wrote some Masonic music and re-edited some earlier works during this last period of his life, and retained an active interest in new developments in music, although he did not always view modern music favorably.
The Music in this collection
Karelia Suite, Op.11 (1893)
The music which forms the three-movement Karelia Suite - of which the first and last were recorded by Kajanus in 1930 and are included here - was drawn from a longer series of pieces composed in 1893 for a "Festival and Lottery in Aid of Education in the Province of Viipuri [Karelia]" - which in fact was more of a nationalist rally, and featured contributions from a variety of artists from different fields, organised by the Viipuriu Students Association at the University of Helsinki. Despite a somewhat indifferent response from a very talkative audience to the first performance (under the composer's baton) and a single second performance of the whole work the following day, Sibelius conducted a number of pieces from the score as a potential orchestral suite over the following seasons. It is quite possible that the conductor here, Kajanus, advised the composer over which parts were most worthy of inclusion in the final version of the Suite, which, together with the Karelia Overture, was first heard in what would become its final version on 23rd November, 1893 - one of the earliest of these concerts, although at that point the titles Alla marcia and Intermezzo were reversed!
Kajanus retained the original Karelia manuscript, and three years after his death in 1933 it was returned to Sibelius. Unfortunately the composer chose to burn much of the score. The work has since been partially reassembled from original parts, and in the 1990s two possible (and different) reconstructions/completions were offered by two composers.
The Karelia Suite, drawn from the third, fourth and fifth tableaux of eight in the original score, has proved to be one of the composer's most popular shorter works.
Rakastava (The Lover), Op. 14 (1912)
This is a reworking of a choral suite of the same name which Sibelius had written in 1894. An early version, completed in late 1911, was recalled from publisher Breitkopf in order that significant revisions might be made - Sibelius had declared it finished on 2nd December 1911 but by the end of the month had retrieved the score and made substantial alterations before finally completing it on 9th January 1912. However the score was turned down by a number of publishers - from Breitkopf on the grounds that it was a revision of on older work, from another because they considered the fashion for string orchestras had passed, and so on. It was finally published not in Berlin, as the composer had hoped, but in Helsinki.
It has been suggested that these early rejections were particularly short-sighted, with the revised work a considerable transformation of the earlier choral piece, and full of well-written music totally characteristic of the mature Sibelius.
King Christian II, Suite Op.27 (1898)
Part of the incidental music to a five act historical drama of the same name by Adolf Paul, the King Christian II Suite consists of five of the original seven musical numbers written for the play, and in a revised order was first performed in Helsinki on 5th December 1898 in a concert conducted by Kajanus. Written at about the same time that Sibelius began working on his symphony, the suite is somewhat symphonic both in size and construction. The short second movement, Elegy, is the only one written for strings alone, and was originally performed behind the curtain as an overture to the play. The King Christian II Suite became one of the first works by Sibelius to be taken up and performed internationally.
The Swan of Tuonela, Op.22, No.3 (1896, rev. 1897 & 1900, later renumbered No. 2)
The most famous of the movements in Sibelius' Lemminkäinen Suite, the music which forms The Swan of Tuonela was a revised version of sketches for the overture to an abandoned opera, The Building of the Boat. It features unusual orchestration, with no flutes, clarinets or trumpets, and a solo cor anglais which is treated almost as a concerto soloist, something unique in Sibelius' tone poem writing.
In its first edition, the score featured the following description:
Tuonela, the land of Death, the hell of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a large river with black waters and a rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela floats majestically, singing.
Scenes Historiques, Op. 25 (1911)
Originally planned as the first of two pieces of this title, Scenes Historiques was written shortly after the completion of the Fourth Symphony, and was refashioned from the Press Celebrations Music written in 1898. The revision involved selecting three of the original six tableaux, revising and refining the orchestration.
Belshazzar's Feast, Op. 51 (1907)
This short four-movement suite is drawn from the ten pieces which made up a theatre score commissioned by the Swedish Theatre for a play by Hjalmar Procopé of the same name. Despite some minor revisions to the orchestration and the renaming of movements, the suite remains largely faithful to the original theatre score. It is particularly notable for the evocation in the first movement, Oriental Procession, of just that.
Swanwhite, Op. 54 (1908)
Once again a concert suite drawn from a theatre score of the same name, Swanwhite was written in 1907. It was during convalescence in July of that year, following painful treatment and thirteen failed operations before the successful removal of a throat tumour, that Sibelius began working on the suite. The Maidens with Roses is the third of seven pieces in the suite, drawn from the original theatrical score of fourteen.
Danses Champêtres, Op. 106 (1924-5)
The Danses Champêtres were among Sibelius' final writing for chamber ensembles. The first two, written in 1924 and heard here in two separate recordings by Emil Telmanyi follow his Andante festivo for string quartet, and were followed in 1925 by three more. They mark his final stylistic period as a composer of violin music - the only instrument (with piano accompaniment) he would write for in the genre of chamber music before stopping altogether in 1929. They are more studies in virtuosity than conventional dances, and even include, at the end of the second, parodies of the second movement of his own Fifth Symphony.
Romance in F major, Op.78, No.2 (1915)
Probably Sibelius' most popular short piece for violin and piano, the Romance in F, completed on 9th January 1915 was envisaged as part of a series of "Pensées fugitives", a companion to his solo piano Pensées Lyriques, Op. 40. Although its lyrical melody is what holds its charm and is responsible for its positive reception, Sibelius himself had doubts: "Perhaps it is too traditional?".
Malinconia, Op. 20 (1900)
This piece for cello and piano was written following the death on 13th February 1900 of Sibelius' youngest daughter, Kirsti, during a typhus endemic. The 15-month-old child was a favourite of the composer, and her death strongly affected him - he increasingly sought refuge in drink and allegedly wrote this, his longest surviving piece for cello and piano, in just three hours. It was dedicated to the conductor and cellist Georg Schneevoigt, who some three decades later would termporarily take over Kajanus' baton in HMV's Sibelius Society recordings following the death of the latter.
Biographical notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Sibelius
Musical notes principal reference source: Sibelius by Andrew Barnett (Yale University Press, 2007)