CD review: Folke Gräsbeck plays Sibelius

First published in the Guardian on 4 June, 2015

Sibelius: piano music
Folke Gräsbeck (BIS)

We’re deep into composer anniversary geekery here, but bear with me. The piano used for this recording is the Steinway that Jean Sibelius — 150 this year — played at Ainola, his forest home overlooking Lake Tuusula in rural Finland. The disc’s liner notes enthuse that this very same keyboard witnessed the birth of Sibelius’s Sixth and Seventh symphonies and was played by pianist friends as illustrious as Wilhelm Kempff and Emil Gilels. Even if you’re not enough of an instrument anorak to go weak over such details, the sound of the piano really is lovely: sweet, nutty, with soft articulation and endearingly warbly tuning. Folke Gräsbeck — a Sibelius specialist and an admirably unfussy player — offers a wide selection of the composer’s piano music, from affectionate miniatures to ballsy Finlandia transcriptions, and through it all we glimpse Sibelius at his most intimate, most charming and most delicate. And yes, hearing the instrument he composed for, recorded in situ in the home where he composed, turns out to be quite a thrill.