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Joseph Tong’s first volume of Sibelius piano music was a varied, refined collection. His playing was poised and attractive, albeit without displacing Annette Servadei, the non plus ultra of Sibelius piano music interpreters. Her five-CD survey is not currently available, however, and while Erik T Tawaststjerna and Folke Gräsbeck (both BIS) have cycles in place, neither fills the gap. Tong’s survey is therefore a welcome addition to the catalogue.

Volume 2 focuses on more abstract pieces, including the three Sonatinas (1912), Bagatelles (1920) and the dramatic early Sonata of 1893. I have always felt the Sonata to be an unduly neglected piece, not least by Sibelius himself, and it is a matter of regret that he did not add further works in the genre. Tong has the measure of its 18 eventful minutes in a reading of boldness, midway in tempo between the slower Servadei and tad-quicker Tawaststjerna.

Compared with both Servadei and Tawaststjerna (who also recorded the complete transcriptions for piano), Tong’s interpretations are on the swiftish side, for example in the Allegro first movement of the First Sonatina. I find his choice of tempo here – and, indeed, throughout – the most natural. The sonatinas are nicely done; full of light and shade, and this same sensitivity is found time and again in 4 Lyric Pieces (1914) and 5 Characteristic Impressions (1924). Tong opens with the still-ubiquitous Valse triste, again nicely judged if a little slow in the outer sections. Quartz’s sound is rich, the acoustic resonant and warm. Recommended.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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