The choral music on this album hasn't been much performed and certainly represents an oddity within the oeuvre of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and it may well be of interest mostly to Sibelius buffs. Yet many listeners casually acquainted with Sibelius' music have heard the story of how he mysteriously stopped composing in the mid-1920s, working for many years on a Symphony No. 8 before finally throwing it into the fire. The interest of the little pieces that make up the Masonic Ritual Music, Op. 113, lies precisely in the fact that they are among the few pieces of music Sibelius composed after this crisis began. Most of them date from the year 1927, but a few were composed as late as 1946; they were not intended as a complete set but were composed individually in response to needs of the Finnish Masonic fraternities to which Sibelius belonged (and even helped establish). Thus the Finlandia Hymn of 1938 fits in this context, even though its origins were individual and specific: the work was first performed at the anniversary of a Masonic lodge. Some of the pieces sound like Sibelius; one of them, Kellä kaipuu rinnassansa (Whosoever hath a love, track 9), is closely related to one of Sibelius' last completed instrumental works, the Andante Festivo for string quartet. Others are simple chorale-like settings. And a few, such as the irregular and almost operatic tenor solo Näätkö, kuinka hennon yrtin (Though young leaves be green, track 6), to a Finnish translation of a text by by Chinese poet Bao Zhao, seem to be tentatively reaching in new directions. That's the appeal of these shorts works: in a way, despite their specific use, they show a bit of how the composer tried to come to grips with a creative block. The performances by the YL Male Voice Choir, tenor Hannu Jurmu, and organist Harri Viitanen are clean and properly small in scale. Also included is a set of orchestrations of most of the pieces by conductor Jaakko Kuusisto (the Finlandia Hymn, naturally enough, is not included, and there are certain other differences. Kuusisto does not try to write in Sibelius' vast orchestral style, but his orchestrations could easily be performed by other groups. Recommended for those with an interest in this composer whose reputation has endured so many ups and downs.
Share this page