Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Penguin Guide, January 2009

The first set of Scénes historiques was drawn from the patriotic pageant mounted in 1899 that included the celebrated Finlandia which served to put Sibelius firmly on the map. The second is much later and includes poetic vignette, At the drawbridge and The Chase. All of them show Sibelius at his most characteristic. The incidental music for King Christian II, a play by his friend Adolf Paul, also comes from the late 1890s. The New Zealanders are thoroughly in sympathy with Sibelius’s world and play with enthusiasm for their Finnish conductor.

Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, August 2008

Here’s a challenge you can try with fellow collectors: put on a few minutes of this disc and see if he/she can identify the orchestra. I doubt many listeners could; not only does the New Zealand Symphony have a thoroughly international sound, but its playing is top-notch in every way. The musical world is getting smaller!

Conductor Inkinen, who takes over the orchestra’s music directorship from James Judd this year, is the latest in a remarkable line of young Finnish conductors making their mark on the musical world; this is his first Sibelius disc with his new orchestra, and it’s a winner all around.

Not too many years ago, the repertoire recorded here was little known, with the exception of the “Festivo” from the first set of Scènes historiques. Now it is all available in multiple recordings—close to a dozen for the King Christian II music from 1898…Inkinen and his New Zealanders respond sympathetically to the character of this music, providing admirable readings that rank with the best: in the Scenes historiques, Gibson (Chandos) and Jarvi (BIS)—lofty company, indeed…Overall, though, even given the stiff competition, this is a first-rate disc. Naxos provides a full-sounding recording with an ideal balance between hall ambience and detail; English-only notes by Keith Anderson cover all the important bases. Let’s look forward to more Sibelius from Inkinen—he’s one to watch.

Richard Freed, June 2008

These relatively seldom heard works are perhaps not Sibelius at his greatest, but they are by no means insubstantial, and there are memorable moments in all of them, particularly as presented here. Everything is alive with the excitement of fresh discovery, fairly brimming over with vitality, intensity and spontaneity—though Inkinen’s subtle control makes sure there is no danger of blowing a fuse.

In sum, this is terrific music-making, and Naxos has come through with vivid, spacious, beautifully balanced sound. If you don’t know this music, there could be no happier introduction to it; and if you do, you may actually treasure this release all the more. It certainly creates high expectations for what may follow from this source. (Next up, recent works of Einojuhani Rautavaara.)

American Record Guide, May 2008

A surprising amount of Sibelius’s total output is music for the theater–either “soundtrack” backgrounds for those elaborate, mostly static “historical tableaux” that were so popular in the 1890s and early 1900s (we were easy to entertain before television came along!) or the more formal and elaborate suites of incidental music that were intended to enhance the action as well as keep audience attention on the drama during long scene changes.

Sibelius really excelled at this now all-but-extinct genre. In his early years as a composer, such gigs were easy to get and brought in much-needed cash. Later, as a world-famous composer subsidized by a generous state pension, he still took occasional theater-music commissions, and although the producers or authors who contracted for his services would have been quite happy with some recycled but generically suitable material phoned-in from Jarvenpaa, Sibelius never cut any corners, turning in music of the highest quality, always well suited to the subject matter. He genuinely loved the theater and numbered many actors and playwrights among his inner circle of drinking and socializing companions. The quality of those suites is of such distinction that their high points function quite well as stand-alone concert works; and with the obvious exception of The Tempest, their artistic worth is much greater than the dramas they were written to accompany.

All of the theater music has fared very well on records, ever since Beecham took his first swaggering pass at the Scenes Historiques. I happen to think the King Christian music is even better, though it’s almost never performed.

The present release, all things considered, offers the most moving and vividly played rendition of that suite since Westerberg’s, way back when. There was a recording on London-Decca in the early 70s conducted by Sibelius’s son-in-law, Jussi Jalas, but the sound was drab and Jalas conducted as though the stylistic incomprehension and dreary, provincial playing of his Hungarian orchestra had thrown him into a temporary stupor.

lnkinen and his youthful, energized New Zealanders seem fully to identify with the bardic spirit of the music. Tempos never droop, the lyrical pages are full of ardor and poetry, and the more stirring and “public” movements have a heraldic stride that very nearly equals Beecham’s classic readings but have the added strength of first-class sound.

These are dedicated and strongly characterized accounts of some of the finest early-period Sibelius. If you like the symphonies and tone poems, but haven’t yet explored the theater music, here’s an ideal place to start.

Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, March 2008

Before he found his symphonic voice, Jan Sibelius honed his musical craft with two sets of Scenes Historiques, orchestral suites inspired by scenes from a patriotic pageant. Pietari Inkinen leads the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in idiomatic performances of these attractive but rarely performed scores (Naxos 8.570068 ).

Sibelius’ musical fingerprints are all over these brief works. He displays a mastery of orchestral color as well as a flair for characterization. The third selection from the first suite portrays a festival at the Swedish court that explodes in a colorful Spanish bolero.

Rounding out the disc is incidental music Sibelius composed for Adolf Paul’s “King Christian II.” Inkinen proves to be a vivid exponent of all three scores on this Naxos CD.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, March 2008

Perceptive and engaging Sibelius from this promising young Finnish conductor

Recordings of this entrancing repertoire are always welcome, particularly when they are as polished and involving as this. A virtuoso fiddler and established chamber-music performer in his own right, Pietari Inkinen (b1980) studied under Jorma Panula and Leif Segerstam. He has recently taken up the reins as the NZSO’s music director and, on this showing, is a talent to watch. Not only does he draw some high-quality, notably zestful playing from his new charges, he directs both sets of Scènes historiques with such keen temperament, abundant character and sensitivity to texture and nuance that they come up with sounding strikingly new-minted. Indeed, his genrously expressive and pliable shaping of the ravishing secondary material in “Festivo” manages to stoke memories of Beecham’s indelible RPO rendering from the early 1950s (Sony, 9/03)—and that’s saying something!

As for the King Christian II suite, I was weaned on—and continue to have a very soft spot for—Sir Alexander Gibson/s affectionate 1966 recording with the RSNO (EMI Gemini—nla). Nor would I relinquish Petri Sakari’s Iceland SO version (Chandos, 7/93, which includes baritone Sauli Tiilikainen’s unforgettably haunting rendition of the “Fool’s Song” from Act 5) or Vänskä’s Lahti SO account of the complete incidental music (BIS, 6/99). Even so, Inkinen and his responsive band easily hold their own. There’s some particularly eloquent string-playing in the achingly wistful “Elegy” (where Inkinen distils a hushed intimacy that is deeply touching), while the dashing helter-skelter ride of the concluding “Ballade” has both invigorating spring and bite to commend it.

Boasting handsomely true and atmospheric sound, this collection certainly merits the attention of all Sibelians and represents enticing value at bargain price. © Gramophone

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, March 2008

I had encountered the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on other Naxos recordings, but I had not previously heard Pietari Inkinen in action. It is soon apparent that he has a real feel for the Sibelius idiom. He and the NZSO acquit themselves well from the start; the powerful opening of All’Overtura is well captured, the music seeming to rise mysteriously from the mist. The Scena opens a little sedately for a Tempo di menuetto, but comes to life as it should at the climax, while the mood of Festivo, Tempo di Bolero, is also well caught. Inkinen’s tempo in Festivo is slower than Beecham’s classic 78 recording…but then most conductors are slower than Beecham.

The NZSO and Inkinen capture the tender opening love scene and Christian’s revenge in the blazing close equally effectively. The Musette is lively; in the Serenade from the Third Act, with music for a court ball, too, they match the mood perfectly…I can vouch for the high quality of Inkinen’s interpretation and the playing of the NZSO…The fact that the notes are by Naxos’s long-standing expert Keith Anderson is practically a guarantee of their quality.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, February 2008

The two sets of Scènes Historiques were compiled and arranged in 1911 and 1912. The movements were compiled from pieces which started life in 1899 as incidental music for a pageant for the preservation of the freedom of the Finnish press which was seen to be at risk from the Russian presence in Finland and its policies. There was a seventh piece which Sibelius almost immediately reworked as Finlandia.

These two Suites contain much enjoyable music in the lighter Sibelian vein. A delightfully playful Overture—which, strangely, contains a slight reference to the bass sonorities of the 4th Symphony—how odd in this context—kicks off the first Suite. This gives way to a two part middle movement where, after a dialogue for bassoons, jubilant brass fanfares and marching music are the order of the day. Thrilling stuff it is too. Then, to change the mood entirely, the final movement contains a bolero rhythm and—how often do you find this in Sibelius?—the sound of castanets!

The second Suite is rather more serious, and, most interestingly, the music is peppered with sonorities which will become familiar in the later 5th Symphony! Again, it starts with a racy Overture and the second and third pieces contain a prominent part for the harp—so tellingly used in the tone poem The Bard, op.64 (1913)and the 6th Symphony, op.104 (1923).

Despite the fact that this is lighter Sibelius, there is a majesty and grandeur about some of the music, and the extrovert brass writing is exhilarating.

The incidental music to Adolf Paul’s play King Christian II is charming, hovering between serious and light! It’s very enjoyable music, easy on the ear with no pretensions to anything other than accompanying the play and being delightful. The Elegy for strings will be best known, as it has been recorded separately before, and it is a deeply felt piece of work. The Musette is a frolic for clarinet and bassoon. Only in the last movement, Ballade—which depicts the wrath of the King—does Sibelius let rip and write a large-scale fast movement full of incident. It might seem a little out of place by the side of the other, smaller, movements, but it makes an exhilarating end to the Suite.

I have had in my collection, for some years, the Alexander Gibson recording of both Suites of Scènes Historiques and Berglund’s recording of the first and Beecham’s of the second Suites. All these performances treat the music in a much heavier manner than Inkinen and, on first hearing, I was disappointed with this new recording because I didn’t feel sufficient weight to the music. After listening to the CD six times I am fully convinced that this is a magnificent performance into which there has been invested a lot of thought and preparation. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays very well indeed, and I must mention the brass section which acquits itself commendably and makes a full, rounded, sound, which is always a joy to hear. The whole orchestra is on top form and, unlike a few of the recent Naxos CDs I have reviewed recently, the orchestra is placed a short distance from the microphones so the reverberation of the hall is heard to splendid effect after loud climaxes.

As an addition to the ever growing Sibelius catalogue this is most welcome.

David Hurwitz, January 2008

Please don’t miss hearing this lovely and reasonably priced CD! For some reason you will almost never encounter this music in concert anymore (at least outside of Finland), and more’s the shame, because it represents Sibelius at his most inspired in the field of “light” music. Both King Christian II and Scènes I date from exactly the same period as the First Symphony, which is to say Sibelius’ full maturity, and they capture his Romantic style at its most evocative. The opening Nocturne of King Christian II might be the most purely luscious piece that Sibelius ever wrote, while the dramatic closing Ballade evokes the First Symphony’s finale.

Scènes I comes from the same collection (now known as “Press Celebrations Music”) that produced Finlandia, while Scènes II dates from the period of the Fourth Symphony and the evocative tone poem The Bard, which you can hear in the atmospheric writing for harp in the central Love Song and concluding scene At the Drawbridge. There is so much pleasure to be had here, and I am delighted that Naxos has decided to devote a single disc to these works, giving them the prominence that they deserve (as opposed to their usual appearance as “fillers” for one of the symphonies).

The performances are splendid. Pietari Inkinen is yet another talented Finnish conductor worth getting to know. He is now serving as music director of the New Zealand Symphony, and he leads the music with obvious authority. The interpretations aren’t quite as rhythmically incisive as Järvi’s on BIS, but they are more lovingly shaped in such places as the Spanish music in the closing movement of Scènes I, that luminous Nocturne in King Christian, or the same work’s delicious Musette. Warm and full sonics complete an irresistible package that no one with even a passing interest in Sibelius (or juicy Romantic music in general) should miss.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

Maybe New Zealand is a very long way from the bleak winds that blow through the music of Sibelius, but with the young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkinen, in charge, it is a wind that whistles through these performances in a way that is usually the provenance of north European ensembles. Both of Sibelius’s Scenes historiques are included, Inkinen showing that he is not afraid of slow tempos at the appropriate moments, while he revels in taking the orchestra down to a whisper. He keenly characterises each highly descriptive section with playing that is uncommonly neat, though much of the clarity comes from his perfect weighting of instruments. The suites contained a political implication, their date of composition in 1911 and 1912 placing them at the height of the composer’s popularity throughout Europe. The suite from the incidental music Sibelius supplied for Adolf Paul’s play, King Christian II, came at the time of the first symphony, the movements played in a different order to that in the play, and it hardly mirrors the dark deeds that take place. Here again the playing of the New Zealand Symphony is excellent, the violins immaculate, Inkinen’s tempos unhurried but always very much alive. Obviously musical life in that country is going to be very exciting with this young man around. The recording team add the icing to the cake by exposing so much detail, yet in the more dramatic pages conveying the weight of the orchestra. There are many alternative versions, but this one is right there with the very best. Fervently recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group