My main reason for getting my hands on a new CD of mainly orchestral music by Sibelius featuring the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner was to listen to the couple of tracks that feature soprano Lise Davidsen. I first saw her with the TSO in 2019 and I thought she was great.
The most substantial piece is Luonnotar which is drawn from the Kalevala and tells the often told story of the universe being created from an egg. This is big orchestra Sibelius ad Gardner is not afraid to go to the extremes in the contrasts of dark and light and, of curse, volume. Davidsen sings with great beauty and no sign at all of stress all through her range, even over a sometimes very loud orchestra. It’s all super smooth and really impressive.
She’s back for the one vocal number in the suite drawn from the incidental music from Pelléas och Mélisande; the Swedish translation of the Maeterlinck play. She’s singing here in Swedish rather than Finnish which I find much easier to follow and I again thought that it was a really smooth performance with beauty of tone and clear diction. The other (orchestral) parts of the suite are interesting. Some of it is Sibelian brooding but there are a couple of quite light and jaunty pieces that involve nicely pointed dance rhythms.
The other pieces on the disk are the forest tone poem Tapiola, which is very dark and brooding and very loud, and two shorter pieces; Spring Song and Rakastava.
The Bergen Phil is a really good orchestra and Gardner knows what he is doing. This is classy Sibelius. My only regret is that I listened to it in a standard CD quality electronic version, which admittedly was nicely balanced and sounded like a good CD, whereas the actual release is a Chandos hybrid SACD and 24 bit CD recording and every one of those I’ve heard has been technically brilliant. So it goes.