This two-disc set of Paavo Järvi conducting Sibelius will be mandatory listening for fans of the Finnish conductor for two reasons. First and foremost, it easily contains the best performance of his early one-act opera The Maiden in the Tower ever recorded. As Sibelius' fans know, this is not all that difficult a trick since there has only ever been one other recording of the work, a musically superficial and dramatically underpowered account by Neeme Järvi, Paavo's father. Even had there been a dozen previous recordings of the opera, however, one still suspects this one would be unbeatable. The soloists are all completely convincing in their more archetype-than-character roles. More importantly, Järvi creates a much more musically cogent and dramatically involving performance with the Estonian National Symphony that makes as persuasive an argument for the work as is imaginable.
But beyond the quality of The Maiden in the Tower, the other reason for Sibelius devotees to try this disc is Järvi's conducting. Like the greatest Sibelius conductors of the past, Järvi grasps the epic scale, the lyrical intensity, and the formal logic of the composer's music. His heroic Lemminkäinen Suite with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and his melancholy Pelléas et Mélisande with the Estonian National Symphony match the finest recorded performances, while his stalwart Night Ride and Sunrise's blend of mystery and power may surpass even the best earlier recordings. And his outwardly severe but inwardly passionate performance of the often recorded Valse triste catches that work's reserved but nostalgic tone to perfection. Whether recorded in Sweden or Estonia, Virgin's digital sound is vivid and evocative, an ideal combination for the Finnish master's music.