SIBELIUS: Karelia , Op. 10 (complete). Kuolema, Op. 44 (complete incidental music). Valse triste (revised concert version).
Sinfonia Lahti; Osmo Vänskä/cond; Kirsi Tuumlhonen, soprano (Kuolema); Raino Laukka, baritone (both scores); two folk-singers (Karelia).
BIS CD 915 (F) (DDD)

BIS' project to record all of Sibelius' music, originally estimated to fill 44 CDs, continues winningly with music for the stage: Karelia, the original 1893 version of "Stage Music for a Festival and Lottery in Aid of Education in the Province of Viipuri;" and his 1903 music for the "original theater version" of brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt's drama, Kuolema (Death in English). The latter work has six cues for as many scenes, starting with the original version of Valse triste, then two songs, then "Scene with Cranes" that also became a concert piece. All together it is moody, broody, minor music by a theatrical master, notwithstanding the popularity of Valse triste in a subsequent version for concert orchestra. Valuable for Sibelius mavens to have, although nonessential for casual shoppers.

The earlier Karelia is a more ambitious score that goes back to the founding in 1291 of Viipuri Castle, and touches on subsequent foreign domination and annexation of the Karelian province. It concludes with the Finnish national anthem, which is not Finlandia, celebrating the reunion of Karelia and the rest of Finland in 1811. The overture that we know from a subsequent, much-recorded concert suite turns out to have a prefatory section, and is followed by a charming folk duet by two lusty non- professionals singing in Finnish. There's a baritone Ballade for a Castle scene set in 1443, the familiar Intermezzo in its original form, and likewise the popular March.

Conductor Vänskä has already validated his credentials as a bold and vigorous Sibelian, arguably the finest of his generation trained by Jorma Panula. His ever-better Sinfonia Lahti (announced for a U.S. tour next season) sounds sumptuous beyond its constituency of 57 players. The recording by BIS adds to a superb track record in Lahti, although where, by whom produced, and when, is not documented in a uniquely generous program book accompanying the disc. The type is small, but a magnifying glass yields a trove of information. Recommended for the adventurer.