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New Järvi CD Features Sibelius' "Maiden in the Tower"

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Apr 26, 2002 - 6:25:45 PM in reviews_2002

Paavo Järvi: Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Ellerhein Girls' Choir, Estonian National Male Choir,  soprano Solveig Kringelborn, mezzo-soprano, Lilli Paasikivi, tenor Lars-Erik Jonsson, baritone Garry Magee. Sibelius, "The Maiden in the Tower," "Pelleas et Melisande" incidental music, Op. 46, "Valse Triste."  Virgin Classics.

(first published in The Cincinnati Post April 25, 2002)

 Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi goes one-on-one here with his father, Detroit Symphony music director Neeme Järvi. It was the elder Järvi who conducted the world premiere recording of Sibelius' only opera, ""The Maiden in the Tower'' in 1984 with Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony. Paavo Järvi was 21. Now, 18 years later, it is a near draw between Estonia's two most famous conductors.

Just a single act and barely 35 minutes long, the 1896 work is a curiosity. Sibelius set it aside after the premiere and it wasn't performed again until after his death. It isn't the music that has kept it in the shadows. It's the libretto, which fizzles badly: Besotted bailiff claps reluctant damsel in tower, she and true love lament their fate, lover confronts bailiff, magnanimous chatelaine makes bailiff desist, all sing happily of spring. The music is evocative, dramatic and a fascinating document of the young composer, who was grappling with opera at the time. The influence of Wagner is clear, but also of Italian and French models.

Neeme Järvi adopts a livelier pace in the charming Overture, and his Maiden (soprano Mari-Ann Haggander) copes better with her octave leaps than shriller voiced Solveig Kringelborn on the newer disc. Both conductors refract sensitively and with brilliance the composer's haunting Nordic colors. The Estonian National Male Choir in the filial version gives a distinctive ring and heft to their important role as villagers and subjects.  The incidental music to "Pelleas et Melisande" and ""Valse Triste'' are both gorgeously realized by Paavo Järvi, with a keen sense of mood and orchestral color.