“Seriously Sibelius” it says on the front cover - but don't let that hoodwink you into thinking that this is some kind of mood-led compilation drawn from Vänskä's mammoth Sibelius survey. In fact, this latest volume (whose contents emanate from four sessions spanning nearly four and a half years) yields some fascinating finds.
Its centrepiece is a reconstruction (by Colin Davis - now there's a name with a Sibelius pedigree! - at the University of North Texas) of Lemminkäinen in Tuonela as it sounded at the April 1896 Helsinki premiere. When Sibelius reworked the score in 1939, he excised at least 108 bars, including an impressive 32-bar introduction and a hefty chunk of the ghostly A minor central episode.
Annotator Andrew Barnett tells us that the Op 77 Two Serious Melodies, for violin and orchestra, were first heard in March 1916 in Sibelius's arrangement for cello. Soloist Marko Ylönen is a rapt proponent of this headily lovely diptych, while the Lahti SO's leader Jaakko Kuusisto is a model of sensitive agility in the first version (from 1917) of the enchanting Humoresque No 1 in D minor.
The Three Pieces contain a fetching 18th-century pastiche, “Autrefois”, which incorporates a setting for soprano and contralto of a poem by Hjalmar Procopé. Bookending the programme are the original and revised versions (from 1909 and 1910 respectively) of the funeral march In memoriam, a stark yet noble (and at times intriguingly Mahlerian) processional to remind us that the uncompromising Fourth Symphony was not far off.
Vänskä and his bright-eyed Lahti band are on irreproachable form, and the BIS production crews have come up trumps once again with some resplendently natural sonics. A strong recommendation.