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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 2

    Last update: 21 February, 2001

    Click here for Part 1 | 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™



    Symphony Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7. Tapiola. En Saga
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy

    DECCA Double 455 405-2 (Complete Symphonies Vol.2)
    2 discs [150:20] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'30") on 1 track, recorded March 1982 (reissued 1997).

    A fine reading from Ashkenazy, supported by the ample and clear Decca sound. Though the result is grand, there are versions which are more epic. This one doesn't move me much, and I suspect it is because there is a shortage of organic phrasing in the centre section of the performance. I felt that Ashkenazy could have "curved" the orchestral lines a bit more, imbue a bit more flexibility to the music. It is only at the third climax that the music really soars with power, though the opening and closing of the Symphony is not bad too.

    Incidently, this album contains one of the very best performances of En Saga I've ever heard - coming right after the Seventh, as well as a very good Fifth. Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 4 are on Decca 455 402-2.


    Symphony Nos. 6 & 7. Nightride and Sunrise.
    Berlin Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Kurt Sanderling

    [69:52] full-price. Symphony No.7 (23'49") on 1 track, recorded Jan 1974. (reissued 1996). Also available in Complete Symphonies Set (BC 2059-2).

    Oddly, though Germany has been one of the least receptive countries to Sibelius' music, it has produced at least two great supporters - Karajan and Kurt Sanderling. The reading of the Seventh here is quite worthy of the great Finnish examples, I think. The opening section reminds me strongly of the readings by Segerstam and Berglund, and also Karajan; these are all sincere, noble performances. The trombonist even injects a considerable vibrato into his solos, which turns out very well (unlike the horror of Mravinsky's Leningrad Phil version). The Berlin SYMPHONY Orchestra play with very refined and cool tone (rather than the heavy Germanic type) - in fact it doesn't sound like a German orchestra! Sanderling's direction is very well-paced and sculpted. Though it doesn't quite have the edge of intensity of the best versions, it remains a worthy performance which has my complete respect.

    No notes are provided regarding the music, instead we have a concise and illuminating interview with the conductor, balancing both formal and emotional concerns. On the Seventh, he says: "Formally speaking, it is a rondo, a legitimate form of symphonic thinking or, to put it in more modern terms, of dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking in music amounts to symphonic thinking, and this has proved of enduring value alongside the usual classical pattern. ... For the life of me, I can't imagine anything else [in the Seventh] but the skerries, the raging storm, the murmuring forests in the land of a thousand lakes. As I see it, this music is, first and foremost, a reflection of nature."


    Symphonies Nos.4 & 7. Valse Triste.
    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Herbert von Karajan

    [66:16] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (23'18") on 4 tracks, recorded Sep 1967. Reissued 1996.

    This is one of two single discs on DG Galleria (shown here) of Karajan's 60s recordings of four Sibelius symphonies, which has just been reissued on DG Originals (more details here). The Galleria reissue is still available, but not likely for long. If you prefer not to invest in the new two-disc set which includes Symphonies Nos.5 and 6, plus Karajan's 1965 Tapiola (recommendable beside the classic 1984 take) and The Swan of Tuonela - get the Galleria now! But if you don't own any of these classic recordings - grab the new set! The performance of the Seventh is reviewed here.


    Symphony Nos.3, 6 & 7. Violin Concerto*. Finlandia. Tapiola. The Swan of Tuonela
    Boston Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Sir Colin Davis. (Salvatore Accardo violin)

    PHILIPS Duo 446 160-2 (Complete Symphonies Vol.2)
    2 discs [145:48] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (21'19") on 5 tracks, recorded Jan 1975 (reissued 1995).

    I used to have quite a few reservations on this cycle, but it has grown on me. Certainly, this version speaks more openly than the Vänskä version, and in any case is more energised with personality than Sir Colin's more recent RCA version (reviewed here). The playing is intense and committed, with generally good tone - general because the sound quality of the CDs isn't really that great. The first trombone solo passage for example is rather boxed-in and a little shallow of body. The final "Affettuoso" section is actually extremely well-done, very powerfully crafted, but slightly spoiled by a couple of over-enthusiastic string and brass entries. A worthy performance, but could have done with a touch more refinement.


    Symphony No.7. The Swan of Tuonela. + Works by Mozart, Mussorgsky.
    Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky.

    MELODIYA (BMG) 74321 25191-2 (Mravinsky Edition Vol.2)
    [64:27] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (20'18") on 5 tracks, recorded 23 Feb 1965 (reissued 1995).

    Though I sometimes find Mravinsky's tendency to push the music, for example right at the beginning, rather not to my taste, this interpretation has its merits. The Russian conductor does well in pacing the work, and there are many spots of phrasing which are admirably evinced. The 1965 'live' recording is very good indeed, revealing the lines of the score.

    However, the overblown Russian brass proves to be a sore point. The embarassing vibrato of the solo trombone almost turns the symphony into a concerto. Russians may like to play their brass this way but it certainly does not do this music any good, especially since the three brassy climaxes are key points of the music. Here, the concept of "powerful brass" is where the section sticks out and plays as a separate protusion in the orchestral soundscape; whereas in other versions, the brass are powerful but remain as one layer in the unified soundscape, lifting the whole. Compared to other versions, this one can be ungraceful, and feels detached.

    Even if the final bars are, as some say, 'powerfully' done - it seems pointless next to the detachness. In fact, a simple comparison with other versions will show that there are far more refined readings with powerful conclusions, eg. Segerstam's version on Chandos (far superior), or Karajan's classic 1967 DG recording and even Berglund's elegant reading (listen to this conclusion). Thus, I am unable to recommend this version.


    Symphonies Nos.2 & 7
    Philadelphia Orchestra
    conducted by Eugene Ormandy

    SONY Essential Classics SBK 53509
    [66:25] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'31") on 1 track, recorded 1 May 1960 (reissued 1994).

    This is a very atmospheric and powerful reading from start to finish. Eugene Ormandy, a highly under-rated conductor, maintains a beautiful grasp of the Symphony's architecture from beginning to end. His conducting of the phrases, whether legato or articulation-wise, is one of the most convincing I've encountered. His handling of the dynamic shadings and the quiet pauses in the soaring string passages after the third climax is spine-tingling.

    The Philadelphia strings sing with soft intensity, or swirl about the brass with windy ominosity; the winds hum with distant grandeur, while the trombone solos surface from the orchestral soundscape most naturally, giving rise to images of whales surging through the oceans. Unlike many technically well-played versions, this one immediately captures your attention. Why? - It has living breathing soul. I once played this to a friend who'd never heard much classical music, let alone anything by Sibelius. Having listened attentively for 22½-minutes without moving an inch, he finally said that he really felt something... [powerful, cosmic - he couldn't find the word.]. Ormandy remains underrated, and this recording, coupled with a very good Second, is worth the small price - but so is Adrian Leaper's on Naxos!.


    Symphonies Nos.1-7. Luonnotar.
    New York Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Leonard Bernstein

    SONY Classical Royal Edition SX4K 64207
    4 discs [250:42] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'44") on 4 tracks, recorded 1967.

    The recording of the Seventh Symphony here, as the notes imply, was made in two sessions in March 1960 and October 1965. This demonstrates simply how virtually all the "performances" you hear on CD are really bits and pieces spliced together from different takes and performances - a common practice. Weird when you think about it, because this is an "organic" symphony.

    No matter, Bernstein delivers a rich and intense reading, ever mind the old sound. I think it is also very "Lenny" - noble, human, heartfelt... in the build-up towards the first trombone solo, or the string hymn before the final Largamente, the music really soars. Bernstein's pace sounds a bit on the quick side, but lo and behold, the timing of this performance is 22'44"! (I.e. on the long side). This is a good, energetic pacing that holds this Seventh with great symphonic strength. If you buy this SET, it's OK. But don't go out of your way to buy it just for this Seventh - there are better ones.
    (Extract from the full review).


    Symphonies Nos.2 & 7
    Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
    conducted by Adrian Leaper

    NAXOS 8.550198
    [64:05] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (20'25") on 1 track, recorded April 1989.

    One of Naxos' first generation recordings - and make no mistake, this is an excellent reading of the Seventh. The interpretation is expressive, and never does Adrian Leaper indulge in egoistical individualisms, allowing the work sweeping and natural progress. The tonal qualities of the Slovakian orchestra can easily match any "world-class" orchestra - and in some cases, probably beat them! Their trombonist intone his/her solos with majesty; the first climax is distinguished by its smooth execution.

    Adrian Leaper draws vivid but never overwhelming effort from the orchestra, who perform their parts with admirable attention to detail. (The Naxos sound is a little old, but still good). Yet he avoids excessive nitpicking of the score and the overall treatment exhibits a satisfying flow. At 20'35", this is on the slightly swifter side, but lo and behold (again), it feels just right. The final "Affettuoso" bars fill the sky with broad majesty; the orchestra achieves a combined tone not often heard in this work, rising in perfect crescendo towards its sonorous, epic close. Very good budget version - take your pick between this and Ormandy's on Sony Essential Classics!


    Symphony No.7. Incidental Music to Kuolema. Night-Ride and Sunrise
    Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Neeme Järvi

    [57:30] full-price. Symphony No.7 (20'44") on 1 track, recorded May 1983.

    Reviewed by Darrell Ang. The timpani's quietly imposing throbbing is followed by a straightforward and relatively brisk scalic passage, the passing-over of tone from the lower strings to the violins is skilfully accomplished here. As the woodwinds and horns gently unfold the layers of 'mist', the hymnic-passage is done with unbelievable beauty. Atmosphere is certainly not lacking in Järvi's reading, despite the fact that he does not linger over most nuances (an excess of which would result in over-Romantic doodlings) and wraps up the symphony in 20 minutes. The aforementioned hymnic-section is played lusciously by a full body of strings, paying close attention to Sibelius' masterful counterpoint and voice-leading - thanks, no less, to the conductor's ear for transparent textures and what would have been elusive details, especially so in the inner voices (listen to how the violas and 'celli compliment the violins' melody).

    Järvi - master of long-breathed crescendi - takes his band of expert Sibelians confidently into the triumphant and breathtakingly-beautiful, 'Olympian' trombone-call: notice how the violins "slide"-away like clouds in the face of this, Jean Sibelius' true swan-song. The development section is characterised by excellent wind-playing, as the imitative figures are each clearly voiced, and the strings "sway" with much charm and inimitable flair. The bridge-passage is nicely paced, not rushed; allowing textures to expand with ease. You can almost imagine the "storm" gradually weakening, and the clouds part, as the sun reveals its effulgence. A majestic crescendo into the tonic wraps-up a twenty-minute journey that has, in its essence, twenty-lifetimes of thought, emotion and the indefatigable human spirit.

    The couplings on this disc are some of the most atmospheric readings of Sibelius ever: allow the "Scene with Cranes" to transport you into the lonely Finnish lakelands, amidst tall reeds swaying nonchalantly in the wind; or dance a sad waltz on a frozen lake in winter in Valse triste.


    Sibelius' Seventh Symphony
    An Inktroduction | Recordings Survey Part 1 | 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 is responsible for the four missing pieces of rock from a New Zealand mountain.

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

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