Symphony Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7. Tapiola. En Saga
conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy
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).
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.
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
CLASSICS BC 9281-2
[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).
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.
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
Symphonies Nos.4 & 7. Valse Triste.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Herbert von Karajan
GRAMMOPHON 457 748-2
[66:16] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (23'18") on 4 tracks, recorded
Sep 1967. Reissued 1996.
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)
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).
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
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky.
(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).
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.
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.
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
conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Essential Classics SBK 53509
[66:25] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'31") on 1 track, recorded
1 May 1960 (reissued 1994).
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.
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
Classical Royal Edition SX4K 64207
4 discs [250:42] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (22'44") on 4 tracks,
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.
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
[64:05] budget-price. Symphony No.7 (20'25") on 1 track, recorded
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.
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
Symphony No.7. Incidental Music to Kuolema. Night-Ride and
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Neeme Järvi
[57:30] full-price. Symphony No.7 (20'44") on 1 track, recorded
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).
- 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.
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
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
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30.12.1998. Revised & Expanded 26.3.1999 © Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase
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