SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto / SINDING: Violin Concerto No. 1 (Bjarte Engeset/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Henning Kraggerud/ Tim Handley) (Naxos: 8.557266)
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Jean Sibelius (1865-1957):
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 Serenade in G minor, Op. 69b
Christian Sinding (1856-1941):
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 45 Romance in D major, Op. 100
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born in 1865,the son of a doctor, in a small town in the south ofFinland, the language and culture of his family beingSwedish. It was at school that he was to learn Finnishand acquire his first interest in the early legends of acountry that had become an autonomous grand-duchyunder the Tsar of Russia, after the defeat of Charles XIIof Sweden. Throughout the later nineteenth centurythere were divisions between the Swedish-speakingupper classes and the Finnish-speaking people, thecause of the latter embraced by influential nationalistsand accentuated by the repressive measures introducedby Tsar Nicholas II, before the revolution of 1905. Inthis society Sibelius was deeply influenced by hisassociation with the family of General Jarnefelt, whosedaughter Aino became his wife. Neverthelesslinguistically Swedish remained his mother tongue, inwhich he expressed himself more fluently than he couldin Finnish.
The musical abilities of Sibelius were soon realised,although not developed early enough to suggest musicas a profession until he had entered university inHelsinki as a law student. His first ambition had been tobe a violinist. It later became apparent that any abilityhe had in this direction was outweighed by his gifts as acomposer, developed first by study with MartinWegelius, then with the pedantic Becker in Berlin andwith Goldmark and, more effectively, Robert Fuchs inVienna.
In Finland once more, Sibelius won almostimmediate success in 1892 with a symphonic poem,Kullervo, based on an episode from the Finnish epicKalevala. There followed compositions of particularnational appeal that further enhanced his reputation inHelsinki, including the incidental music to the patrioticstudent pageant Karelia, En Saga and theLemminkainen Suite. During this period Sibeliussupported himself and his wife by teaching, as well asby composition and the performance of his works, but itproved difficult for him to earn enough, given, as hewas, to bouts of extravagance, continuing from his daysas a student. In 1896 he was voted the position ofprofessor at the University of Helsinki, but thecommittee's decision was overturned in favour ofRobert Kajanus, the experienced founder and conductorof the first professional orchestra in Helsinki. Asconsolation for his disappointment Sibelius wasawarded a government stipend for ten years, and thiswas later changed into a pension for life. The suminvolved was never sufficient to meet his gift forimprovidence, inherited, perhaps, from his father, whoat his death in 1868 had left his family in somedifficulty.
Sibelius continued his active career as a composeruntil 1926, his fame increasing at home and abroad. Thesuccessful Symphony No. 1 of 1898 was followed by thestill more successful Finlandia. Busoni had tried toarrange for the publication of his music by Belyayev,patron of the later nineteenth-century Russiannationalist composers, on the excuse that the Finnswere, in a sense, Russians, or at least citizens of aRussian grand-duchy. This came to nothing, butsubsequent publication by Breitkopf and Hartel ensureda wider public abroad than provincial Finland itselfcould ever offer. Symphony No. 2 in 1902 won anunprecedented success in Helsinki. This was followedby the Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 3, and after anillness that put an end for the moment to his indulgencein alcohol and tobacco Symphony No. 4, with travel tothe major musical centres of Europe and internationalhonour. Symphony No. 5 was written during the war,after which Sibelius wrote only four works of anysubstance, Symphony No. 6 in 1923 and, in thefollowing year, Symphony No. 7, incidental music toShakespeare's The Tempest and, in 1926, thesymphonic poem Tapiola. An eighth symphony wascompleted in 1929, but destroyed. The rest was silence.
For the last 25 years of his life Sibelius wrote nothing,remaining isolated from and largely antipathetic tocontemporary trends in music. His reputation in Britainand America remained high, although there wereinevitable reactions to the excessive enthusiasm of hissupporters. On the continent of Europe he failed torecapture the earlier position he had enjoyed before thewar of 1914 in Germany, France and Vienna. He died in1957 at the age of 91.
Sibelius completed the first version of his ViolinConcerto in 1903 and it was first performed in Helsinkithe following year by Victor Nova?¿ek with indifferentresults. The concerto was revised and successfullyperformed in Berlin in 1905 by Karl Halir, under thedirection of Richard Strauss. The choice of soloist,however, offended the violinist Willy Burmester, whohad originally been promised the work. The earlierversion of the concerto was technically ambitious, andas a violinist Sibelius had needed no help with the layoutof the solo part, although this presented technicaldifficulties that were beyond his own command. Thelater version made necessary revisions in the solo partand it is in this definitive form that the work has becomea standard part of the solo repertoire. The work wasdedicated to the young Hungarian virtuoso FerencVecsey, who had given a later performance of theconcerto in Berlin in the presence of the composer.
The concerto opens with no lengthy orchestralintroduction, the soloist making an almost immediateappearance, accompanied by a Scandinavian mist ofmuted strings. Although the movement is in thetraditional tripartite form, the central developmentsection is replaced by a cadenza-like passage for theviolinist. The lyrical slow movement brings a deeplyromantic melody, with the soloist proceeding to weavehis own fantasies above the orchestra. There follows afinale which the composer once described as a dansemacabre, providing an opportunity for virtuoso displayin a work in which the solo part is generally entwinedwith the orchestral texture.
The two Serenades for violin and orchestra werewritten in 1912 and 1913 respectively. They had theirfirst performance in Helsinki in 1915 in a fiftiethbirthday programme that included the newFifth Symphony and the tone-poem The Oceanides.
The second of the two serenades, the Serenade inG minor, Op. 69b, opens with a gently lilting theme forthe solo violin, accompanied by the sustained chords ofthe muted strings of the orchestra. This forms the basisof the first part of the work, its initial serenity subtlythreatened by an intrusive and whispered C sharp fromthe double basses and timpani. The 6/4 metre of theopening is changed to duple time with a livelier dottedtheme from the soloist, over a triplet semiquaveraccompaniment, in a section that again finds a place forthe intrusive whispered C sharp, before the brief returnof the opening theme. The dotted rhythm is heard againand the low C sharp eventually heralds the return of thefirst theme, unaccompanied, before the Serenade endsin final, brief optimism.
Widely remembered by an earlier generation as thecomposer of The Rustle of Spring, the Norwegiancomposer Christian Sinding was born into a culturallygifted family in Kongsberg in 1856. He trained first as aviolinist, studying under Schradieck at the LeipzigConservatory, where he was also a pupil of CarlReinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. During his four yearsin Leipzig he turned his attention increasingly tocomposition, an art in which he became prolific, writingvery much within the German late Romantic tradition.
He made his real debut as a composer in Oslo in 1882,when his Piano Quartet was performed. Sindingreceived state support from Norway from 1880 and in1924 was given the use of Henrik Wergeland's house'Grotten' in the castle park in Oslo. B