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Issue 73/50

More Stuff:

The Symphonies
The First Symphony An Inktroduction
The First Symphony Survey of Recordings

The Fifth Symphony An Inktroduction
The Fifth Symphony Survey of Recordings

The Seventh Symphony An Inktroduction
The Seventh Symphony Survey of Recordings

Lahti/Vänskä Cycle: Nos.1 & 4 | 2 & 3 | 5 & 5 | 6 & 7, Tapiola

The Bournemouth Symphony/Berglund Cycle (1970s)

Iceland/Sakari Cycle: Nos. 1 & 3 | 2 | 4 & 5 | 6 & 7 | Four Legends

More Symphonies reviews at the Inkvault

Kullervo This Way Lies the Future: An Inktroduction with further links

The Violin Concerto Original and Final Versions on BIS

  • Dong-Suk Kang (Naxos)
  • Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG)

    Other Orchestral Works
    Tapiola The Forest's Mighty God: An Inktroduction

    Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra - Tone Poems on DG:
    Karelia Suite, The Oceanides, Luonnotar, King Christian Suite, Finlandia
    En Saga, Excerpts from Kuolema, The Bard, Tapiola

    Finlandia and other Tone Poems A Double Decca compilation

    The Stuff of Legend
    Karelia Complete Music for the Pageant (BIS)
    Karelia & Press Celebrations Complete Music (Ondine)

    King Christian and Pelléas et Mélisande Complete Incidental Music

    The Bard of Sibelius

    Everyman and Belshazzar's Feast Incidental Music (BIS)

    The Origin of Fire and other Choral Works

    The Tempest - Sibelius' Farewell (An Essay and inktroduction)

    The Tempest Suites with Segerstam/Helsinki PO (Ondine)

    Choral Music
    Music for Mixed Choir (BIS)

    Chamber Works
    Early Chamber Music Vol.I and Vol.II (Ondine)

    Complete Youth Production for Violin & Piano Vols.1 & 2 (BIS)

    Piano Music Vol.2. Gimse (Naxos)

    Sibelius Phaidon 20th Century Composers

    Recordings Survey Part 1

    Last update: 21 February, 2001

    Click here for Part 2 | Part 3 (Historic)

    PART 2 Philharmonia/Ashkenazy (Decca) | Berlin SO/Sanderling (Berlin)
    Boston SO/Davis (Philips) | Leningrad PO/Mravinsky (Melodiya)
    Philadelphia/Ormandy (Sony Essential) | NYPO/Bernstein (Sony)
    Slovak PO/Leaper (Naxos) | Gothenburg SO/Järvi (BIS)

    PART 3 BBCSO/Koussevitsky (EMI) | NYPO/Beecham (1942, Dutton)
    Helsinki PO/Beecham (1954, Ondine) | RPO/Beecham (1955, EMI)

    Reviews by the Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase™


    Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7.
    The Tempest Suite No.2

    Iceland Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Petri Sakari

    NAXOS 8.554387
    [71:17] budget-price.

    The "bad" thing about this Seventh is that it sounds familiar - like a combination of Karajan's Seventh(s), but without being so heavy, Segerstam's grandiose style (without being quite so extreme), and the sensitive intellectualism of Berglund's Seventh (but not so unique). In all, this is a very beautiful account of the symphony. It is also far more inspiring and emotionally sensitive than the Lahti Symphony account on BIS. Well-paced, well-directed, the Iceland Symphony exude both the warmth of humanity and cool, icy wonderment in the performance. The buildups are very fine, and the first trombone solo is utterly majestic. After the vitality of the Sixth coupled in this excellent disc, this Seventh is calm and filled with regal grandeur. No lack of energy of course, which piles magnificently in the third climax, after which the Icelanders subside into and rise into a very satisfying conclusion. A very fine conclusion to the cycle. (Extract from the full review).



    Symphonies Nos.4, 5, 6 & 7.
    The Swan of Tuonela. Tapiola.

    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Herbert von Karajan

    DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON The Originals 457 748-2
    2 discs [159:07] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (23'18") on 4 tracks, recorded September 1967 (all recordings from 1960s incomplete cycle with BPO). This reissue: March 1999.

    (Two years ago I guessed this reissue would happen). Karajan's classic 1967 recording has just been reissued on DG Originals (March 1999), also at mid-price, but with more music on two 70+minute discs. The single disc on DG Galleria (click here to see) is still available, but not likely for long.

    This famous reading is cogently argued and above all, spine-tinglingly intense. Like the Philharmonia version (reviewed below), the sense of progression and line is very strong, the sense of living movement taut, the grand energy palpable. The control of tempo and rubato is very natural, a credit to both conductor and the incredible cohesion of the orchestra. It is probably the result of the superb recording that the great beauty of the winds come through here so much better.

    The level of detail the players and sound engineering capture and create is astounding for the recording's age, adding a further dimension to the experience of listening to the Symphony. The Berliners play with supreme intensity, particularly up to the soaring "storm" section after the third trombone climax, where even the basses can be heard tremoring with earthshaking power. All the more impressive the quietening development into the serene section after the "Affettuoso". The final bars teem with strength and purpose, but is not (surprisingly after all the bellowing) overblown. Karajan, always a conductor of great intelligence including in Sibelius, reveals the final splendour of the Seventh Symphony with firmness, clenched-fist conviction. And finally - I can hear the reverb...

    This symphony was previously coupled with Karajan's 1965 Fifth at full-price, then with the Fourth at mid-price; and now the entire quartet which he recorded in this incomplete cycle is once again available together, with the 1964 recordings of The Swan of Tuonela and Tapiola (the latter is definitely recommendable beside the 1984 recording). Comparing with my "first generation" full-priced release CD (Nos.5 & 7), the remastered disc (on Originals) has receded very slightly to make a more natural sound. Where occasionally the original sounded raw (particularly in the giant fortissimo sections), the new disc has a slightly warmer and smoother sound. But whatever the case, the power of the reading is completely retained. This version serves as a good document of one of the finest non-Scandinavian interpretations up to the 1990s when the renaissance of Scandinavian interpretations was (is) at its height. Recommended as a heavyweight reading.



    Symphonies Nos.1-7.
    The Swan of Tuonela. Lemminkäinen's Return. En Saga. Pelléas et Mélisande Suite.
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Paavo Berglund

    4 discs [300:31] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'18") on 1 track, recorded September 1972 (all recordings from 1970s cycle). This reissue: 1999.

    Never have I heard the Seventh as here - lines glide out of the orchestra where I've never noticed before. As the great first climax manifests, it is not so much the majestic trombone solo that catch my attention, but instead it is the divinely soaring chord in G-E in the violins, above a gently rolling C-pedal in the double basses that had me humbled to tears of bliss. This Bournemouth version of the Seventh Symphony's first climax is the most magical, most human, most natureal I have ever heard.

    Berglund's conducting is simply amazing - you can hear and FEEL him shaping the music - everything is so alive. The timpani roll at the final C-chord is like - all at once, light and darkness in fusion, a cosmic chorale where everything reaches universal equilibrium at total force, shaking with voluminous yet unified power, brazen brass upon tremoring basses, booming timpani, harmonies of winds, fields upon fields of silvery strings; the orchestral lines conjoin, swell and surge forward with enormous volume of purpose, fusing to reach the nirvana of C major.

    I have never lost my belief in Sibelius' Seventh Symphony - here, I believe again. This is my top recommendation of the Seventh, and of the full cycle, bar none: Paavo Berglund's Sibelius - and of course the great composer himself - reminds me again why it is wonderful to be alive. TOP RECOMMENDATION. (Extract from the full review).



    Symphonies Nos.6 & 7. Tapiola.
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    conducted by Herbert von Karajan

    EMI Classics Karajan Edition CDM5 66602-2
    [73:22] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (24'55") on 4 tracks. Recorded July 1955, reissued 1998. MONO.

    Next to Karajan's classics recordings with DG, the Philharmonia cycle on EMI is also very valuable. The interpretation has a solid monumentality also present in his later account for DG (see above). The progression up to the first climax is superbly moulded, grand and brimming with intelligence; the latter quality (a sense of well-meaning will which I am unable to explain) is always a distinct trait in Karajan's Sibelius. The handling of the pedals with the violins soaring above is particularly satisfying. Indeed, I think there is something to the way Karajan displays a sense of lines in the symphony which impresses me in this reading - sort of like tracing strands of wind if you get my meaning. The monophonic recording does have its effect on the reproduction, and I find that it works better with a pair of headphones. A fine companion to the classic 1967 DG recording.



    Symphonies No. 7. Kullervo. Rakastava Suite. En Saga.
    London Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Sir Colin Davis

    RCA Victor Red Seal (BMG Classics) 09026-68312-2
    2 discs [137:50] mid-price(?). Symphony No.7 (22'51") on 4 tracks, recorded 1994. Issued 1998.

    The Seventh Symphony here begins very promisingly, with ample and palpable build-up. The first trombone solo is magnificently evoked and this first climax is surveyed majestically. After this point the slowness of the performance starts to take its toll on the music's pulse. The performance gradually slackens and at worst this rendition is very sleepy - unless you're the sort who likes r e a l l y . . . s l o w l y . . . m o v i n g sonorities.

    At 22'51", this is also one of the longest; but bear in mind that length of time taken to perform this work does not always reflect on how convincing you are. Taking it at this broad pace, Davis seems to be savouring the score but at expense of its underlying momentum. The final Largamente section is powerful but diffused. Here, each section of the orchestra enters at slightly different points to culminate in a grand C chord. Davis gets an impressive crescendo into this finale, but the lead-up to it lacks the flow of say, the Karajan (1967, DG), Segerstam (Chandos CHAN9055) or the Koussevitsky recording on Pearl or EMI.

    This is a plain and conservative reading - Davis does not seem to have anything new to say in the score; as such, it's not that appealing to a nutcase like me, but a passing or curious collector might find this collection useful. (Extract from the full review).



    Symphonies Nos.6 & 7. Tapiola.
    Lahti Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Osmo Vänskä

    BIS CD-864-2
    [68:16] full-price. Symphony No.7 (22'44") on 1 track, recorded 1997. Issued 1998.

    I found the reading here a little cool, similar to the straight-faced account by Blomstedt on Decca. A very noble performance - not an emotional one, but certainly very musically moulded, with the score cleanly held together with intelligent - not sterile - hands. Above all, the Lahti orchestra's colours are breathtaking. To be honest, I found this performance very difficult to describe. As you all know, I'm totally biased towards the Lahti "Dream" Team and the Seventh is my favourite symphony - yet, I found this rendition hard to praise and also hard to fault - like trying to praise/fault nature for making a mountain here and not there. The experience: like watching the unfolding of a day from sunrise to sunset, midnight to dawn - it just is. This recording is recommended to those who want a clean reading which is not too "emotional".

    A big bonus comes in the form of the best Sixth I have ever heard and an atmospheric (in the BIS tradition) Tapiola. (Extract from the full review).



    Symphonies Nos.5, 6 & 7. The Oceanides. Finlandia. Tapiola.
    Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Paavo Berglund

    EMI Classics Forte CZS5 68646-2
    2 discs [111:53] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (21'24") on 4 tracks. Recorded 1984, reissued 1998.

    I had an interesting experience with this version. Berglund's Seventh has a "coolness" of spirit which is mesmerisingly Finnish. In its general style of mood, tone and moulding, this version is quite similar to the Ormandy and Karajan. but what distinguishes Berglund is his very refined sense of the Symphony's inner details. It is no wonder that he has contributed extensively in modern editions of the score of the Seventh. Berglund gives life to even the slightest change of dynamic or tempo, and couples this with a general atmosphere of almost Bachian tranquility. Instrumental parts spring out without disturbing the organic architecture (try the horn blast at Largamente, track 4, 1'41"). Ultimately, Berglund strikes a balance between giving the Symphony personality and emotion, and maintaining coherence in the organic logic of its progression.

    This recording is remarkable, among other things, for the breathtaking heaven of the ending. As the brass hymn ever so softly, laying out a misty pedal under the strings - amazingly no attempt is made to increase volume or intensity. Instead, Berglund allows the serenity of Sibelius' greatest symphony to appear like the halo of angels, like streaming sunlight through the clouds. The magical diminuendo of the final C chord is as of stars fading into the quiet of darkness, into the dusk of cosmic finality. Recommended for subtlety and spirituality.



    Symphonies Nos.5 & 7. Valse Triste.
    Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Leif Segerstam

    [63:42] full-price. Symphony No.7 (22'10") on 1 track, recorded 1991. Also available on a 4-CD Complete Sibelius Symphonies set (CHAN 7054 mid-price; reissued 1997).

    Because sonority plays an important role in Sibelius' music, the Seventh Symphony is often best heard in modern recordings which reproduce the sound in a clear and large acoustic, as here. When the wind pedals hum in the background while the strings shimmer above, you can really imagine yourself floating through the clouds rolling across the infinite sky. Segerstam's magnificent reading has one distinctive trait - its breathing patience. There is something... divine and beneficent in its broad landscape, as if Nature herself was infusing the world with her awe-inspiring love. The buildup towards the first great climax is simply majesty incarnated. The recording also has a way of fusing the different instrumental tones together so that nothing sticks out of the orchestra. This becomes highly effective in this Symphony, especially in the way the wind harmonies meld and chorus. In the final bars, the bass pedals never fail to make me tremble; the surging field of harmonies undulate with tranquil power as they roar ever so gently to the final close. A very fitting companion to any version you may have. Recommended for magnificence and sound engineering.


    Sibelius' Seventh Symphony
    An Inktroduction | Recordings Survey Part 2 | Part 3


    BIS and Chandos discs are available in Singapore from HMV (The Heeren) and Borders (Wheelock Place). DG, EMI and Sony discs can be ordered from the usual places. Look for Naxos at Borders or Tower/Suntec City.

    The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase occasionally wanders over a sea of clouds.

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    440/080a: 30.12.1998. Revised & Expanded 26.3.1999 © Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase

    Readers' Comments

    From: Bob Harper ( / Friday, December 24, 1999 at 05:38:44)

    The review of Sanderling's recording of the Sibelius 7th mentions in passing Mravinsky's version (anathematized as "the horror of the Mravinsky"). I disagree utterly. This performance attains a power and intensity second to none, not even Koussevitzky. Yes, the trombone plays with a great deal of vibrato, but what of it? That's the way Russian brass plays, and I think we can be sure that if Mravinsky hadn't wanted it, it wouldn't be there. Listen to the strings in the last section: has ANYONE ever generated such weight of tone, such molten expression in the service of this music? For me, this is the Desert Island version, untouched and (probably) untouchable. Bob Harper

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