Jean Sibelius (08.12.1865 – 20.09.1957) was was a Finnish composer and violinist of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. He is widely regarded as being the the most note worthy symphonic composer from Scandinavia. During the first decade of the 20th century Sibelius’ fame spread throughout the European continent. Busoni conducted Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major (1901) in Berlin, and the British composer Granville Bantock commissioned his Symphony No. 3 in C major (1907). Sibelius’ set of seven symphonies is central to his output and these are regularly performed and recorded as are his other major works. His other best-known compositions are Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto (see work 37), the choral symphony Kullervo, and The Swan of Tuonela (from the Lemminkäinen Suite).
Finlandia, Op. 26, is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It was written in 1899 and revised in 1900. It is a short piece – a typical performance takes between 7½ and 9 minutes depending on how it is performed. Most of the work is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. It is only towards the end of the piece that a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serene and melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard.
There is a great version of Finlandia conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Philharmonia Orchestra on a bargain priced double Decca set that also contains performances of Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, Op. 11, Tapiola, Op. 112, En Saga, Op. 9, Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49 and the Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 among other works. Ashkenazy’s rendition of Finlandia can boast some of the most vibrant, powerful brass sounds available on CD. This is all delivered in fine sound with great presence, whilst allowing the overall orchestral image to remain coherent and natural.
The other works, some of which are performed by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Horst Stein, provide a splendid introduction to the best of Sibelius’ orchestral works beyond the symphonies.