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Sinfini Music, August 2014

This is Sibelius playing of genuine class—full of crosshatch detail and delicacy of texture; this disc of lesser-known Sibelius was so evocative that Naxos asked the Finnish conductor of the Kiwi orchestra to record the symphonies too. © 2014 Sinfini Music

Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, July 2009

This is Inkinen’s second Sibelius collection for Naxos; I praised the first in Fanfare, and if anything, like the present one even better.

At first, the programming of this disc seems somewhat arbitrary; it combines some of Sibelius’s most obscure tone poems—one long, the others quite brief—with two sets of excerpts from his incidental music. The Kuolema music isn’t an actual suite, but rather two pairs of short pieces written for different productions, thus the two opus numbers. But upon listening to the disc, I recognized the logic behind the choice of repertoire: all of these works were composed between 1903 and 1911—that is, during the transitional period that includes the Third Symphony. The Romantic language of the first two symphonies is definitively left behind, but the more spartan style of the Fourth has yet to emerge. In contrast, the earlier disc featured mostly works from Sibelius’s “patriotic” period, immediately preceding the turn of the century.

Night Ride and Sunrise used to be a rarity on record; it is still probably the least-played of Sibelius’s major tone poems. It can easily turn tedious in the wrong hands (it’s a long ride!), and Inkinen skirts danger by taking one of the slowest tempos on disc, but the pulse throughout the first part remains firm, the woodwind solos in the middle section carry easily over the strings—even the piccolo-bass clarinet duets are audible—and the orchestra makes a lovely sound in the Sunrise section…The suite from Belshazzar’s Feast features some lovely playing, particularly by solo violin and cello in the second movement, “Solitude,” and by solo flute in the third, “Night Music.” But the opening “Oriental Procession” really needs more prominent percussion…In the Kuolema music, the “Valse triste” is languorous, perhaps too much so, but most collectors can afford a change-of-pace version of this once-ubiquitous work. The remaining movements are done well, although I find the “Canzonetta” perhaps a notch too slow.

The shorter works, mostly atmospheric in character, are colorfully done, their effect aided by the immediacy of the recording and the high quality of the solo woodwind-playing. Indeed, the New Zealand Symphony has a major-orchestra sound, and the recording is splendid throughout. Naxos doesn’t tell us what the venue is, but it’s a good one; the sound is both full and unusually transparent.

This program may not be top-drawer Sibelius, but it does include a number of delicious miniatures in top-notch performances. It seems likely that we’ll have more Sibelius from Inkinen; it’s a prospect I await eagerly. Recommended.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

The New Zealand [Symphony Orchestra], led by Antoni Wit, is proficient in Weber overtures (8.570296) and very impressive in Sibelius’s Night Ride and Sunrise and other pieces led by Pietari Inkinen (8.570763). Led by Peter Breiner, it plays suites from Janáček operas [Vol. 1 (arr. P. Breiner) – Jenůfa / The Excursions of Mr Brouček 8.570555, Vol. 2 (arr. P. Breiner) – Kat’a Kabanova / The Makropulos Affair 8.570556, Vol. 3 (arr. P. Breiner) – The Cunning Little Vixen / From the House of the Dead 8.570706].

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, April 2009

This is one terrific disc! On the basis of this alone—and I gather from the reviews I’ve read of the first installment in his Sibelius series—Pietari Inkinen is a Sibelian of the first order. The young conductor, born in 1980, has the New Zealand Symphony playing its collective hearts out for him and the recorded sound is superb. Not only a “bargain of the month,” but a “disc of the month” at any price! For the most part, this is a collection of lesser-known works of the composer that truly deserve this kind of exposure. The one “chestnut,” Valse Triste from Kuolema, receives a sensitive performance that makes the piece sound fresh minted.

The disc begins with one of Sibelius’ greatest poems, Night Ride and Sunrise. Heretofore my favorite recording was the one by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Horst Stein on Decca. It had all the excitement that Simon Rattle’s rather tepid account with the Philharmonia—coupled with his outstanding Sibelius Fifth—on EMI lacked, but the brass playing could be a little crass at times. With Inkinen, you get the best of both worlds. The “night ride” portion is nearly as exciting as Stein’s and the “sunrise” is much more majestic. This is now my favorite version.

The remainder of the disc is not one whit inferior. The Suite from Belshazzar’s Feast demonstrates that Sibelius could write “exotic” music with the best of them, yet still maintain his unique fingerprints. His orientalism may not be as extrovert as Nielsen’s in his Aladdin suite, but with its greater subtlety makes the more lasting impression. Indeed, the second and third movements, Solitude and Night Music offer much in the way of inward beauty and are really haunting. Likewise, Pan and Echo and The Dryad are examples of the mature Sibelius’ own special brand of impressionism. The New Zealanders woodwinds in Pan and Echo are ravishing, and the rhythmic pointing is infectious. The Dryad is like a chip off the Fourth Symphony in its wonderful strangeness, and its oboe and flute solos—beginning at 1:29 and recurring throughout the work—reminded me of Janáček. The second of the Two Pieces shows Sibelius in his “Spanish” mode when its dance turns to cornets and castanets adding local color. There is a bit of that in The Dryad as well.

If I had to single out anything dispensable on the disc it would be the last two movements of Kuolema that the composer added later to his incidental music to Järnefelt’s play, which seem less inspired than the other works on the disc. No matter. The whole disc merits the highest recommendation for interpretation, performance, and sound. As usual with Naxos, the presentation and notes are very good, too.

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, February 2009

Take this along with Inkinen's previous Naxos Sibelius release (Scènes historiques; King Christian II 8.570068) for some rarely heard Sibelius, very sympathetically played in finely detailed recordings and at budget price.

Inkinen makes the elusive Night Ride and Sunrise cohere, while the engineers do their part to ensure everything sounds at a ll levels (double basses, for example, barely audible as required, but absolutely felt).

Belshazzar is winning and seductive. The Dryad, Tanz-Intermezzo, Pan and Echo and Kuolema with its famous Valse triste and Scene with Cranes, the composer's favourite image from nature, round out the lineup. More from this group, please.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, February 2009

I was very impressed with this orchestra’s last Sibelius offering (Scenes historiques I and II / King Christian II Suite 8.570068) and on this new disk there is even more to admire and enjoy.

Nightride and Sunrise has long been a favourite work of mine—the galloping forward momentum, with flashes of themes rushing across the musical landscape, the journey we’re taken on. As we approach the sunrise, which is the second half of the work, the music broadens and becomes lighter; with the dawning of a new day the terrors of the night pass. This is truly magnificent stuff. Inkinen and his orchestra convey the ride well, and the relentlessness of the barren landscape through which we are traveling is laid out before us; when dawn breaks there is the most wonderful horn playing, and later, the woodwind figurations are delicate and precise. Towards the end there is the most brilliant climax which Inkinen builds with care and places it perfectly within his concept of the piece as a whole…

Nothing can really follow Nightride and Sunrise and the poor little Pan and Echo doesn’t stand a chance, which is a shame for it is a lovely piece—one of Sibelius’s many examples of light music…It’s a winsome little piece, a gorgeous slow opening section giving way to a bacchanalian dance Belshazzar’s Feast was a play by Hjalmar Procopé, which has sunk without trace…The [Suite’s] four movements are full of mock eastern promise and are wholly uncharacteristic of their composer, but they are very enjoyable nonetheless. But this incidental music pales beside the superb pieces from Kuolema (Death), a play by Sibelius’s brother–in–law Arvid Järnefelt…What is interesting about these four pieces is that they were created from the incidental music and have found places in the repertoire—especially the Valse triste, tinged, as it is, with a bitter sweet melancholy. Scene with Cranes is a very dramatic piece, while Canzonetta is an elegiac movement for stings and the Valse romantique is just that. A Finnish waltz? What will they think of next? These last two pieces are more of Sibelius’s huge catalogue of lighter pieces and they are charming.

Between these two sets of theatre music come two more light miniatures. The Dryad is a peculiar little piece for it has big intentions. There’s a strange chromatic figure which keeps re–appearing on strings and winds, some beautiful muted string music, and a big brass dominated climax near the beginning. It’s strangely static for the music seems suspended in mid air, with no real idea of where it is going, but yet it’s a very complete and satisfying miniature. The following Tanz-Intermezzo is another oddity; part suave waltz, part fandango, complete with castanets.

As with Inkinen’s previous Sibelius disk this is very enjoyable and with the orchestra recorded slightly away from the microphones you can turn up the volume and have a wonderful aural experience for the recorded sound is magnificent. I loved every minute of it and this is a real must have which should not be missed at any cost.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, February 2009

Inkinen enhances his growing reputation with more Sibelius

Inkinen’s luminous account of the suite from Belshazzar’s Feast will have you questioning why such an appealing and highly evocative score is so seldom performed (both middle movements possess a truly spine-tingling hush).

Inkinen even manages to breathe new life into the Op 44 diptych from the 1903 incidental music for Kuolema (the ubiquitous “Valse triste” and bleakly beautiful “Scene with Cranes”), and his alchemy extends to the two altogether more mundane numbers that Sibelius added for a 1911 revival of the play (the feeble “Valse romantique” sounds more beguiling than I would have ever thought possible).

Naxos’s sound combines helpful transparency with plenty of ambient glow, and I for one would welcome more off-the-beaten-track Sibelius from the NZSO/Inkinen team.

Robert R. Reilly, January 2009

Naxos has a new Sibelius treat from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under Pietari Inkinen. They offer stirring, crystal-clear performances of a variety of tone poems, including Night Ride and Sunrise, Kuolema, Pan and Echo, and Suite from Belshazzar's Feast in superb sound.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, January 2009

This is in general the lesser known Sibelius. It is done with atmosphere and hushed tension. Night Ride is a favourite of mine. It displays so many hallmarks: that relentless yet moulded ostinato, bird song, the romantic expression of the Second Symphony and the ascetic joys of the Sixth’s string textures. It’s such a contrast with the fleet-footed Paavo Järvi on Virgin but a delight to hear every detail limned with such sturdy enchantment…The Belshazzar's Feast Suite’s Oriental Procession in a similar idiom to Nielsen’s Aladdin music and Delius’s Hassan without the latter’s morbidezza. Solitude ticks trippingly along and melts entrancingly into the tenderness of Nocturne. The final segment (Khadra's Dance) is typically polished theatre music from Sibelius—deeply pleasing, succinct and with a tangy lilt—listen to that woody bassoon. Pan and Echo is a more serious piece which seems to come from the same world as the Third Symphony. The Dryad is a bleached and wan impression with a four-square style more closely related to that of the Fourth Symphony and the eerie pieces in the much later music for The Tempest. While still over-hung by some dread there is a little more in warmth in its companion—the op. 45 Tanz-Intermezzo. This segues smoothly into the one famous piece of Sibelius here: Valse triste—lovingly done. Scene with Cranes is intense but the woodwind voicing of the Cranes seems earth-bound beside Paavo Berglund’s famous version with the Bournemouth Symphony—and yet … and yet … Inkinen draws the most atmospheric playing from the NZSO violins. The last two pieces are pleasingly on-style but plumb no depths.

A nice collection which looks to me as if it might—with a previous Inkinen NZSO disc—form part of a complete cycle of the non-symphonic Sibelius. If so it will complement Naxos’s Iceland Symphony intégrale.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Having given an ecstatic review to Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony in their previous Sibelius disc—a view echoed by critics around the world—I would equally commend this new release to you. No other version on disc takes such infinite care to recreate the composer’s dynamics in the Night Ride and Sunrise, the grading of the slow crescendos is magical, with the subtle orchestral colours bringing a whole new dimension to the score. But if you want to know more about Inkinen, go to the popular Valse Triste as the opening to Kuolema, and you will fully appreciate his elegant and thoughtful musicianship, the moments of silence elongated so as to make you wait that precious moment for the piece to continue. Here and throughout the disc, Inkinen obtains a rare level of pianissimo in quiet moments while retaining a vibrant quality, the floating woodwind a real delight. Rhythmically he is exact, the Night Ride unflinching in its obsessive regularity. Elsewhere the music has more warmth than we often hear in Sibelius, and I have never encountered a more atmospheric approach to the suite from Belshazzar’s Feast. Everything is right in his elegant and smooth approach to the seldom performed, Pan and Echo, while the Intermezzo from the Two Pieces is a typical example of his suave approach. He has obviously made a massive impact on his new orchestra, which was already establishing itself in the world’s premiere league. They enjoy a fine recording that is a servant to the myriad of dynamic effects. Most fervently recommended to you.

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