Listeners unaware that Jean Sibelius wrote a song cycle called In the Stream of Life, or that he wrote a large group of orchestral songs, are not missing anything: only one song here, the scena-like Koskenlaskijan morslamet, Op. 33, was originally written for voice and orchestra. The rest are arrangements from voice-and-piano works; those collected under the album's title were not a cycle originally, but were selected and compiled by their arranger, Einojuhani Rautavaara, in one of the last projects before his death. The collection of songs has a few oddballs, including Hymn to Thaïs, the Unforgettable, Sibelius' only song in English. The whole thing might seem pretty obscure, but Sibelius orchestrated several songs himself and was involved with the orchestral treatment of several others. Start sampling with the final Kom nu hit, död, Op. 60, No. 1 (like many of these earlier works in Swedish, not Finnish), which Sibelius orchestrated just before his own death in 1957. Beyond its interest as one of the very few works of any kind Sibelius produced during the last 30 years of his life, it's gorgeous, and it's sung to the hilt by baritone Gerald Finley. The songs as a group, with their brooding nature imagery, have more to do with Sibelius' symphonic world than with the lighter idiom of his theater music, and conductor Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra seem to recognize that by including no fewer than three orchestral pieces. These are not indicated in the graphics anywhere, but the performances may well be worth the price of admission for some buyers: the Bergen Philharmonic under Gardner has turned into an exceptional Sibelius instrument, with a sheen in the high strings that matches much better-known groups. The best-known of the three is Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49, but Sibelius fans will be equally attracted by the rare Romance in C major, Op. 42, and The Oceanides, Op. 73. On balance this is a strong, offbeat choice, of most interest to Sibelius lovers, but able to stand on its own for anyone.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Svarta rosor, Op. 36 (Six Songs) No. 1. Commodo - Lento - A tempo - Lento - A tempo - Largamente (Black Roses)