Recordings > Recital

Gerald Finley: "In the Stream of Life"

CD Button Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gardner. Texts and translations. Chandos CHSA 5178

Recordings Finley In the Stream of Life Cover 617
Critics Choice Button 1015 

LIKE RAVEL, Sibelius wrote orchestral versions of the piano accompaniments to some of his songs. On this new, all-Sibelius disc, we hear samples of these, but we also hear songs orchestrated by four other composers. The centerpiece of the program is a suite of seven orchestrated by Einojuhani Rautavaara, under the title In the Stream of Life. The selection of songs and the orchestrations are effective and deserve wide circulation. The first song, “Die stille Stadt,” is sung in the original German of Richard Dehmel. Here, Rautavaara makes no attempt to imitate a Sibelian style of orchestration; rather, he composes Pärtian washes of mallet percussion and suspended strings. The remaining songs, to Finnish texts, are orchestrated in contrasting ways. “Jägargossen” comes across as film music, with the climactic chord shattering in a way it could not on a piano. “Hjärtats morgon” emulates Sibelius’s distinctive, vigorous string writing. The slippery, offbeat instrumental entrances in “Älven och snigeln” perfectly illustrate the poem, which is about a snail trying to hang onto a rock as a river threatens to sweep it away. “Näcken” leaves no doubt as to the reason it fired Sibelius’s imagination.

These songs, as well as seven others, are sung by Gerald Finley, who shows a remarkable range of expression throughout. His interpretations always sound immediate, but in different ways. “I natten” is consoling; “Jägargossen” is given the clarity of a Carl Loewe ballad; “Demanten på marssnön” is kindly and fresh, like a Finnish “Edelweiss.” Two songs offer a particularly wide-ranging polarity: “Kom nu hit, död” (the famous Shakespeare “Come away, Death”) is poised and unperturbed, while in “Hymn to Thaïs, the Unforgettable” (to an English text by Arthur Borgström), Finley’s voice becomes a gigantic cathedral organ. Probably no single voice is ideal for every song in this program, but Finley creates the illusion that his is.

It’s impossible to specify exactly what sets Sibelius’s orchestrations apart, yet when you hear “I natten,” it’s unmistakable. Here Sibelius anticipates, by ten years, the bowed and plucked opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird. Conductor Edward Gardner and the virtuosos of the Bergen Philharmonic also offer two Sibelius tone poems. If there’s a case to be made for the existence of a fulfilling form in The Oceantides (and perhaps there isn’t), Gardner doesn’t find it. But the tricky syncopations are brilliantly done, and the timpani line is atmospheric but never indistinct. And Pohjola’s Daughter is magnificent.

The sound quality is the closest possible on CD to the experience of sitting within an orchestra. The vigorous playing of cellos and basses always maintains a cushioned sound. But the sonics aren’t best heard at a low or moderate volume. Turn this CD up, and enjoy.  —William R. Braun 

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