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on December 26, 2009
Pietari Inkinen is from the sounds of this disc an excellent Sibelius interpreter. Every little gem on this disc dances or mystifies with wonderful aplomb.

Mr. Inkinen is going to come to conduct my home orchestra next month and I can't wait to see how he does with Dvorak 7.

But back to this disc. Naxos sound has improved dramatically, but Mr. Inkinen has his New Zealanders sounding like a top Scandinavian ensemble in this music.

Warm (huh???) is the description that most suits this set of recordings. Put on a headset and a delightful orchestral balance plus a warmth I can't find in other recordings of these works will dance in your head.

Sibelius is not the cool, brooding, and frozen tundra composer here except maybe for "Night Ride and Sunrise" and certain parts of "Kuolema". Yet, you don't feel like you're out in the cold here.

"Valse Triste" is simply wonderful. HvK would be envious of Mr. Inkinen's and the New Zealander's performance here.

Many of these works have not been recorded very often over the years. So, to have them together in a collection of this quality is an absolute must have for Sibelius collectors and those newly interested in his music.

Can you say "Buy it now"?
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On the heels of their lauded first release of Sibelius orchestral music, Sibelius: Scenes Historiques I & II / King Christian Ii Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are back with some of Sibelius's lesser known works, as well as a couple of much better known ones. Sibelius has always been a huge favorite in New Zealand, as he has in the USA and England, and there is a tradition there of excellent performances of his music. Indeed, the early music of the country's best-known composer of the last century, Douglas Lilburn, often sounds almost indistinguishable from Sibelius's.

The disc contains a fine performance of 'Night Ride and Sunrise', Op. 55, one of the better known tone poems here. It is followed by a work I'd never heard before, 'Pan and Echo (Tanz-Intermezzo No. 3)', Op. 53a, a five-minute piece which evokes a pagan world peopled by nymphs and satyrs. The 'Suite from "Belshazzar's Feast"', Op. 51, is a four-movement work, incidental music for a long-forgotten play by Sibelius's friend Hjalmar Procopé. It opens with an 'Oriental Procession' set in Belshazzar's Babylon and is followed by delicate 'Solitude', originally titled 'The Jewish Girl's Song. The suite concludes with the evocative 'Night Music' and with 'Khadra's Dance', a genteel belly-dance.

'Two Pieces for Orchestra', Op. 45, consists of 'The Dryad', a six-minute impressionistic tone poem which has us again back in pagan Greek days. It is coupled with 'Tanz-Intermezzo No. 2', three high-spirited minutes featuring harp glissandi, and oboe and cornet solos all in almost Viennese waltz time.

The disc concludes with 'Kuolema (Death)', Opps 44 and 62, music for a 1903 play of the same name by Sibelius's brother-in-law Arvid Järnevelt. It opens with what is likely Sibelius's best-known work (perhaps excepting 'Finlandia'), 'Valse Triste'. Then come another well-known piece, often excerpted and played alone, 'Scene with Cranes'. Its shimmering string choir and evocative use of solo clarinet are inimitably Sibelian, a example of his always distinctive orchestration. The second pair of numbers, the lovely 'Canzonetta' and lilting 'Valse romantique' (together designated Op. 62) were written for a 1911 revival of the play.

With its combination of well-known and almost unknown smaller orchestral pieces by the Finnish master, this disc has much to offer. It argues convincingly that the NZSO under Inkinen, its new music director, are among the world's better ensembles.

Recommended.

Scott Morrison
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VINE VOICEon August 3, 2011
Sibelius wrote incidental music for some ten or a dozen theatrical productions. There are selections from two of these here, together with four other works, one of which is definitely a tone-poem and three can be classified as tone-poems for want of any other category to put them in. There are several good reasons for recommending this issue. One is that the performances are excellent, another is that the recorded sound is excellent, and another is that the value is excellent. Naxos just seem to keep coming up trumps in terms of imagination, boldness, general quality and sheer value for money. May they continue to defy trends in the world economy that other enterprises are going to find a problem.

I have recently bought two other Sibelius issues, and to start with I have played Night Ride and Sunrise from both of them by way of a benchmark for assessing this disc. Whether first impressions will last I have no way of telling, but while they are all I have I would award first place to this account in preference to either the Lahti SO or even the classic version by the ultra-dependable Dorati with the great LSO. There would have to be a very good reason indeed for such a ranking, and the reason is the recorded quality. The sound here is fresh and clean, and that gets the disc off to a tremendous start with the terrific opening bars of Night Ride and Sunrise. I suppose I have to add a further compliment - to the editing. Those great opening bars are followed by a further 16 and ½ minutes of great music, and I can hardly imagine a more brilliant initial impression being made. Whether Night Ride and Sunrise is even yet appreciated for the great work it is, indeed whether it is even performed much, I do not know; but placed like this, and played like this, it has a real chance of its stature being more widely recognised.

One of the sets of incidental music is to Kuolema, which being interpreted is `Death'. Sounds good, wouldn't you say? It does to me, and in my own opinion it is good. The numbers we have here are two later interpolations plus two long-time favourites, the Scene with Cranes and the great Valse Triste itself. I love it to this day, and the eerie impression is created as it should be in this performance. No doubt this is an instance of music being the secondary factor, written to illustrate a scene, but the irony is that the scene it illustrates is actually a dance - i.e. a piece of music in its turn. The music to Belshazzar's Feast is not an everyday item on concert-schedules that I get to see, and the music is not the equal of what Walton produced, let alone Handel. However the two slow pieces are very effective, and all four are very well performed as usual.

Why Sibelius produced so many 5-minute (sometimes even shorter) tone-poems I have never understood, nor does the liner note say why a couple of them are called `Dance-Intermezzo'. I had a look in Robert Layton's book on the master, but no joy there either I'm afraid. Neither Pan and Echo nor The Dryad is illustrative to any great extent, and with the rarest exceptions, notably the Valse Triste, Sibelius's `programme' music usually seems to me more a matter of music first and picturesque images afterwards than the other way about. This is what I sense strongly in Night Ride and Sunrise. If the title had never been given by the composer, who would have thought of it? The second part is not remotely suggestive of a sunrise, and although it is easy and natural to think of a long solitary ride on horseback in the first section, nothing demands such an image. It is perfectly easy to depict such a scene, witness Schubert's Erlkoenig or the way Berlioz represents the ride to the abyss. The thing can even be done with just a few notes, as in a spooky song by Mendelssohn about a ghostly castle. Sibelius's rhythm is nowhere near so literal, and where does the strange snarling knot of discords right at the start fit in?

When we find so good a performance of Night Ride and Sunrise as this is, it's worth doing some fresh thinking. Sibelius's `hints' are as confused and as confusing as those of Shostakovich are concerning the `Leningrad' symphony. On Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays it was connected with a sleigh ride, on Tuesdays and Thursdays it was suggested by or at least at the Colosseum in Rome, and at weekends it was something to do with a train journey. May I suggest - just forget the lot, title and all. And there is something else. Nothing else in this recital displays a completely unique and unmistakable musical tone and idiom which at its most awesome makes Sibelius, for me, quite the greatest composer of the 20th century. On this disc it is hurled in our faces from the first notes. From there on I carry on hearing that strange opening sequence, with its lonely and almost unaccompanied violin figuration, just as music, the music of probably the only composer who could make music in such a way. Be careful of the liner note here, incidentally. In general it is fine, but the author has swallowed too much of what he has been told in other conventional commentaries, to the extent of committing outright misrepresentation when he talks of his supposed `horse's hooves' `growing in intensity'. Just listen to it - they do nothing of the kind, and that is what makes this passage so unique and extraordinary.

Even by the high Naxos standards that I am used to, this disc is something special.
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on December 22, 2012
As is frequently the case, preceding reviewers have given excellent descriptions of the works in question, so I will limit myself to comments about my own reactions to the music. Valse triste from Kuolema and Night Ride & Sunrise are the only compositions on this disc that I've run into on the radio or in the concert hall, and both are given sterling performances by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Pietari Inkinen, whose other Sibelius discs are also highly recommended. With the exception of Night Ride & Sunrise, all the music consists of short segments on the order of 4-5 minutes, most of them grouped together as formal or de facto suites, and my only complaint is that those individual movements are too short -- the music is so Sibelius and yet so unfamiliar at first hearing that I want each portion to go on and on. But they don't. And that's it, really. Pick up Inkinen's versions of Scenes Historiques I & II and King Christian II Suite as well and you'll have tidy two-disc collection of out-of-the-way Sibelius that will make you wish you'd turned those rocks over a long time ago. Recommended.
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on January 13, 2013
This is the best of Inkinen and NZ. Agree with reviewers. Track order makes a nice listening program.

Also try the Historical Scenes disc. Then symphonies 3-7. One and 2 not so hot.
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on January 4, 2014
01-04-14 Here is the young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkenin leading the New Zealand Sym. Orch. in a Naxos disk of Sibelius works, most of which are unfaMILIAR TO MOST AUDIENCES, BUT WELL COMPOSED AND APPEALING, NNE the less.The disk opens with a performance of "Night Ride and Sunrise. It runs for 16:38 and opens with the fury of the horse eager to get onto the trail. We can almost hear the steed rearing and naying loudly with anticipation of the journeyIn less than a minute the intro leadsi into the main body of thre work, as INkenin gives up the rapid galloping tempo this music neeeds. It is, therefore , eady to see the sceneTHE KEY TO THIS PIECE IS IT'S PATIENCE, WAITING FOR JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT TO RELEASE THE TENSION THAT THE COMPOSER HAS BUILT INTYO THE POEM. ALONG THER WAY THE RIDER AND HIS MOUNT PAUSXE BRIEFLY TO ADMIRE THE FIRST RAYS OF DAWN, BREAKING OUT FROM BEHIND THE THIVK CLOUD COVER.
"Pan dnad Echo" is next and is a rather obscure piece for orchestra that opens with the strings and the harp, plucking thier instruments in unison, with brass and winds in the background. The contrast is quite nice. This "other side" of the composer is one I can not say OI have seen vey often. I welcxome ANY new material from any of my favorite or less familiar, and this work opens with a Wagnerian idea for some beautiful thoughts in the orchestra with anemphasise in the winds first then the rest of the ensemble. This intro then morphs into the main theme that soon presents itself. This is restive and reflective materialthat could easily be learned and ememorized. The main themesteps forward around the 2:35 mark, or so, and by 03:10 the full orchestral forces are unleashed. The results are excitingnad envigorating. The energy whips it self up aND DASHES TO THE FINISH AT 4:51. NICE.
NECT IS THE SUITE FROM Belshazzar's Feast Op. 51. Like it's predecessors on this disk, Belshazzar's was createdf around the 1905-1909 period. The beginning "Oriental Procession only lasts for 2:47 but is intriguing nonetheless. Inkinen keeps a steady tempo throught and the little percussion we hear is well placed and perfectly played by the New Zealanders. The next track is the sectiion named "Solitude," and it is intimate music with the main contributors seated in a arc around trhe podium.The mysterious and somewhat spooky episode "Night Music," is next and is again, subdued and gentle in itr's approach. The melodies of all these pieces we've heard so far, are quiet, reflective nd soothing, some thing we don't seem to find in his symphonies, making them rarities we should seek out aND COLLECT. WEHEN I RECIEVED THIS CD BACK IN JULY OF 2013, I HAD NO IDEA I WOULD FIND THHE WORKS THAT INTERESTING, BUT I DO. HENCE, I CAN'T SAY I DISLIKE ANYTHING THIS TALENTED AND INSPIRING FINNISH composer has written. I tolerate the violin concerto but that's about it. Right now, I find these works fairly interesting but not vital to "knowing" the composer. I need more time to study the pieces on this Naxos recording.
The "Two pieces for Orchestra" features 2 parts, the Dryadand the "Tanz-Intermexzzo" and didn't excite me very much. Oh, it's ok, but not much else. The concluding work is the 4 part Kuolema" or "death," opens with the most well known piece on this CD, the "Valse triste," of 5:05. Very familiar is this music, a dark and dreamy waltz for orchestra the trio in this waltz is well kknown and well presented here by Inkinenwith the resumption of the begining material, but now with a full and passiionatte yet dreamy interpretatiionoffered by the Zealanders is if Sibelius were Icelandic, rather than a Scandinavian composer and not from the orchestra's neighboorhood. It seem right out of Swan Lake with it's moodiness. I liked it much when I first heard it. The "Scene with cranes lasts a generous 6:27, the logest cut in the album. IF i didn't know better, I'd swear these pieces were from a Scandinavian country bu tthey are not, of course.A short and intimate item is the trrack 11 "Canzenetta" is also of that darker moodier side of Sibelius and is beautifully performed and interpreted. I found it rather interesting and in the new year I shall try tio learn this piece asds well as the rest of this package. The CD concludes now with the "Valse romantique" brings this presentation to a fitting and elegant ending, I do recommend thisa disk, as for only az few bucks you will find yourselves rewarded. A reasonable 3.75 star rating. AS ALWAYs, Here's hoping God's blessings on you all, and happy listening, Tony.
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