Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7.
The Tempest Suite No.2
Iceland Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Petri Sakari
"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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
conducted by Herbert von Karajan
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
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
Symphonies Nos.6 & 7. Tapiola.
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Osmo Vänskä
[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
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
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
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).
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.
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
The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase
occasionally wanders over a sea of clouds.
respond to this article, please post your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
30.12.1998. Revised & Expanded 26.3.1999 © Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase
From: Bob Harper (email@example.com / 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.
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