I'll emphasize from the outset that this recording is a mandatory acquisition for anyone even remotely attracted to Sibelius's soundworld, even if the works featured are unfamiliar. The tone poem Skogsrået (The Wood-Nymph) receives its premiere recording here and the fact that it has remained unrecorded for so long proves to be one of the most striking omissions of the history of recorded music. It is, indeed, a flawed masterpiece; flawed in the sense that it could have benefited from an extra overhaul from Sibelius's hand, but a masterpiece in the sense that the thematic material is fully on the level of his more famous works; the thematic developments are generally convincing and the orchestration magnificent as usual. The atmosphere is that of a cross between the Karelia suite (in the opening) and the Lemminkainen Legends, in particular the hauntingly dramatic Homeward Journey.
We also get the original melodrama, scored for speaker, horn, strings and piano and using a text from viktor Rydberg, which is just as stirring, and in which the chamberlike textures provide an effective contrast to the darker and more opulent soundworld of the orchestral version. The disc also presents us with the short melodrama Ett ensamt skidspår (A Lonely Ski-trail), dating from 1925 but scored for harp and strings in 1948. It is more negligible, but still atmospheric enough to warrant a listening.
The main body of this issue is given to the first complete recording of the incidental music to Svanehvit (Swanwhite). Resembling the music for Pelleas & Melisande in mood and coloristic effects, it is a quite effective work of shimmering, frozen halflights and wonderful use of textural nuances, even though - admittedly - I suppose most listeners will manage just fine with the seven movements of the suite available elsewhere. Overall, the performances are quite superb - the Lahti players are fully at home in the idiom and Vänskä once again proves himself to be an ideal Sibelius interpreter. The recorded sound is of demonstration quality, adding glory to an already essential release.