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Robert Plyler
The Post-Journal, May 2007

Songs tend to be much less popular than orchestral music, especially when they are recorded in languages not easily understood by the listener.

While audiences who are equipped with a translation in a printed program or with surtitles on a concert stave can usually enjoy concerts in other languages, it is relatively rare for listeners to warm to someone singing words which are no more than sounds to them and presenting emotions at which they can only guess.

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who died in 1957, is much respected for his instrumental compositions, especially the nationalistic “Finlandia.” But he also composed hundreds of songs, the majority of which are in Swedish, because Finland has been ruled by Sweden for much of its history and that was the language spoken by the composer’s family in their home.

Naxos has released a first volume of Sibelius’ songs, performed by tenor Hannu Jurmu and piano accompanist Jouni Somero. There are 30 songs on the disc, most lasting between two and three minutes. The majority are in Swedish, with a few in German and even fewer in English.

The singer has a wonderfully expressive voice, with strong technique and rich intonation. I’m sure that the many Swedish-speaking readers, especially those who partake in the Scandinavian choral tradition would enjoy the disc.

For myself, I admire and respect the quality of the recording, but I find it hard to listen for too long. If they had published translations in the album liner, I’m certain I would have felt otherwise.

If you’re interested, it’s on the Naxos label, with catalog number 8.570019. More information is available on the Naxos website:

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2007

Though we instinctively think of Sibelius as an orchestral composer, his song output was sizeable and numbered more than a hundred works, Naxos intending for the first time to record them all, a number never previously appearing on disc. Though here performed by his native Finnish artists, most of the songs were to Swedish texts, the composer having been brought up speaking that language. Their mood moves from radiant love songs that would not have been out of place in Italian opera, to those that have the Nordic chill we find in his symphonic output. Though they did not form song cycles, many were gathered under one opus number, and I find it strange that Naxos is not issuing them under that convenient heading. Like Schubert, Sibelius did at times use the same words, as in Sav, sav, susa, set to different music, and also like Schubert he was prone to offer the pianist very differing levels of involvement from song to song. Most are quite short, many cruelly exposing intonation shortcomings, and though some are appropriate to the heroic stance of the male voice, recordings from mezzos and sopranos show how much easier and preferable they fall on the lyric female voice. Hannu Jurmu, winner of many prizes and with career in the opera house, is aware of the character of each song and is well accompanied by Jouni Somero. Sound quality is admirable, but the booklet could have given the listener some idea as to the content of each song.

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