Music Reviews

‘Sibelius Piano Trio’ from Yarlung Records

Get Volume 1 & Volume 2 for 40% off when you buy the Double Album

In my possibly somewhat subjective opinion, there is no other interpretation that brings Sibelius’s intent so remarkably to life. Summing it all up: This release is beyond the grasp of anyone else. 

With this Sibelius you get more

Some scholars advance the idea that Sibelius’s chamber music is not at par with, for instance, his symphonic output. I do not agree. Less mature? Yes, by all means. These are youth compositions. But that doesn’t automatically mean that it lacks inspirational quality. The three piano trios recorded and released by Yarlung Records in two volumes stem from the same genial mind that produced the peerless tone poems. The difference is that they were meant to serve another purpose: Intimate music to be played by him (Janne) on the violin, his sister, Linda, on the piano, and his brother, Christian, on the cello. A gifted family affair, one might say. 

As the proof of the pudding commonly is in the consuming, I invite you to listen to any, or better still, all of them as interpreted by the Finnish Sibelius Piano Trio in two Volumes. It convinced me. So, it may do the same to you. Furthermore, in doing so, you may count yourself lucky because you will get a series of unfamiliar yet brilliantly explorative ‘fillers’ and a supreme rendition of a well-known Finnish composer as well. 

The Sibelius Piano Trio, consisting of Juho Pohjonen, “the fast-rising Finnish star”, (The Guardian), at the piano, the violinist Petteri Iivonen (Second Prize in the 2010 International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, playing Isaac Stern’s Carlo Bergonzi’s violin), and the cellist Samuli Peltonen (Principal at the Finnish National Opera), was established some years ago, with a view to promoting Finnish composers and, as it turned out, in preparation of a projected release in honour of Finland’s 1917 centennial of independence. In the meantime, however, their wings have already spread much farther. 

Non-damaging collaterals

Although the three Sibelius Piano Trios surely will attract most people’s attention, the Los Angeles-based label, Yarlung, together with the members of the Sibelius Piano Trio, have decided to add an interesting ‘collateral’ giving the unique possibility to familiarize ourselves with some modern composers hitherto largely unknown. Their contribution, which certainly is non-damaging to the overall result, consists of works dedicated to the Trio, like ‘Nene’, written for them by the Argentine composer, Diego Schissi, ‘Ruminations’, by the American music teacher and composer, David S. Lefkowitz, and ‘Päärme’, by the Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski. These add-ons are complemented by Kaija Saariaho’s well-known yet otherworldly ‘Je sens un deuxième cœur’ (I feel a second heart).

I’m not sure if all of this will please all ears. The fact is, however, that each of these gets an interpretation from a technical as well as a passionate angle which can hardly be bettered. For a good understanding of the scores, reading the notes is an absolute must. It helped me come to grips with the South-American-Inspired ‘Nene’ and, above all, the immensely and emotionally powerful ‘Je sens un deuxième cœur’, especially to discover how the text and subsequent score relates to the participation of each of the instruments in the overall framework. 

A rare opportunity in the highest resolution

Being an avid SACD Surround man, this recording of the three Sibelius Piano Trios, originally released as a 2 CD set in honour of the 1917 Centennial of Finland’s independence, escaped my attention. Only since I became aware of its availability on Native DSD was I pleased about the rare opportunity to get these in the most realistically attainable resolution, thus far nowhere else on offer. 

Philip O’Hanlon ‘a music lover of impeccable taste’ describes in the liner notes how Yarlung’s Arian Jansen Studio was built, using the most advanced digital recording equipment. But at the end of the day, it is Bob Attiyeh, Producer and Recording Engineer of Yarlung Records who guarantees the ultimate audio quality of whatever leaves the facility. For the techno-buffs, detailed information about set-up and equipment used is to be found in the booklet.

If you have a home system that can reproduce the technical effort that has gone into this release, you have already won a big chunk of the battle. The bulk, however, is delivered by the three soloists making up the Piano Trio, who, thanks to Bob Attiyeh, come each -and together- to full bloom in your listening room. If I have understood correctly, Bob asks musicians (like what used to be done for the Welsh Nimbus label) to play the score in one go. If so, it explains why this ‘studio recording’ sounds so excitedly life-like. On top of it, one becomes aware that reproducing it in high-resolution benefits only the best players, like the Sibelius Piano Trio undoubtedly are.

Beyond the grasp of anyone else

Despite being a youth work written for the family, the Sibelius Trio set down a memorable ‘Korppoo’, already some steps further on the ladder to fame than the previous Havträsk Trio. Listening to both, it felt like I was at one of Janne’s family summer vacation sessions. Joy and admiration in abundance. The final work on Volume 2, ‘Lovisa’ named after the town of Lovisa, where Sibelius composed it while staying at his aunt’s home, is perhaps the best-loved. The rendition by Pohjonen, Ivonen and Peltonen is one of a surprising freshness and lovable beauty in the second movement, which, after the dark-coloured ‘Je sens un deuxième cœur‘, brings the entire programme to an uplifting close.

In my possibly somewhat subjective opinion, there is no other interpretation that brings Sibelius’s intent so remarkably to life. Summing it all up: This release is beyond the grasp of anyone else. 

Get Volume 1 & Volume 2 for 40% off when you buy the Double Album

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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