Vol. 1 (The Legends) En Saga 17.36 Swan of Tuonela 9.45 Pohjola's
Daughter 13.33 The Bard 6.07 Lemminkainen's Homecoming 6.13
Vol. 2 (Nature and Patriotism) Tapiola 17.52 Oceanides 9.06 Nightride
and Sunrise 14.02 Finlandia 7.29 Prelude to The Tempest 6.14
Sibelians who have not already unearthed these treasures need to seek them
out. The sound is no great shakes though very decently presented here and
the music making has an astonishing grip. You may not associate Boult (with
his classic buttoned-up image) with Sibelius. However this is Sibelius impatient
and furious, dangerous and tetchy. There is not a shred of a hint of emotional
constipation in these performances.
You can see now where the success of Boult's Lyrita recording of the Moeran
came from. This most Sibelian of British symphonies was given a roistering,
stomping performance with the 'New Philharmonia of London' 20 years after
these Sibelius recordings were made one dusty summer in a London heatwave.
Incidentally when can we expect that particular diamond from the Lyrita treasury
to be reissued on CD?
I have no recollection of Boult conducting Sibelius symphonies but he must
have done at some stage perhaps during his BBC years. If you check the archives
you will find that he recorded The Oceanides and Nightride and
Sunrise on 78s in the 1930s and these were incorporated in the Sibelius
Society albums. (Why has no-one thought to reissue those versions I wonder?).
The build-up and the first 12 or so minutes of En Saga hold you in
breathless concentration. The tension relaxes somewhat towards the end. The
Boult is every bit the equal in interpretative values of the Horst Stein/Suisse
Romande Decca recording from the late 1970s.
The famous Swan has all the requisite poise and again that very
concentration we associate with Mravinsky! Note the honeyed control of the
solo violin at 6.44 - one of a myriad small foundation details.
Pohjola's Daughter is built at first very rigidly but then (very soon)
comes that sense of plasticity and release (at 2.30). Note orchestral surge
at 3.10. central section detrimentally broad. Whiped action at close and
coal black edge to brass barks. Tape splice at c 8.25. Otherwise full of
finely judged utterly masculine touches.
The austere Bard is given a performance pointing up its links with
the Sixth symphony.
Lemminkainen's Homecoming is given the best performance I have heard.
This is a real hell-for leather cartwheeling dash. The sound quality is the
best of all the tracks on this disc.
At least one little regarded aspect of Boult's character seems to come over.
Boult the irascible martinet comes across in the fiery impetuosity which
especially informs Tapiola but which can be felt in all the tone poems.
The Oceanides (the sea nymphs) is declared by Sibelius to have
Mediterranean rather than Nordic roots. We know that Sibelius (and other
Nordic composers: e.g. Petersen-Berger and Gösta Nystroem) was greatly
drawn to Italy. His second symphony was written there as was Tapiola
(of all works!) and Nightride and Sunrise.
Nightride is driven faster than I have ever heard it. In fact you fear for
articulation although the orchestra does marvellously as they are pushed
right to the edge of their seats. Towards the end that great burst of energy
seems to dissipate and a more languid air pervades the music.
Hearing these peppy and inspired performances of Nightride (with its
sustained ostinato inspired by a railway journey rather than anything
particularly equine) and Oceanides reminded me of the two early 1970s
(EMI?) LPs of rare tone poems. These (or more accurately Radio 3 broadcasts
made from them) were my introduction to the exotic Sibelius during the late
1960s and early 1970s. These performances were directed by Antal Dorati and
included at least one work which I wish Boult had included in the collection.
That work is Luonnotar (in the Dorati recording sung by Gwynneth Jones).
Luonnotar (also notably recorded by Berglund with Taru Valjakka -
infinitely preferable to the sadly vibrato-ridden Decca recording with
Söderström and Ashkenzy) is in common gaunt spirit with The
Bard and the Fourth Symphony. What a pity that Boult was not drawn to
record the complete Lemminkainen Legends! He would have made short
shrift of Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari. If only
The other pieces on this disc display the same qualities as the rest: grave,
impetuous, intemperate. The performance of The Tempest prelude is
especially impressive (for a while it served as a filler to one of Boult's
Pye LPs of The Planets) drawing obvious parallels with the
string-goaded storm of Tapiola. Finlandia is both grim and
modestly stirring though tending towards languor - no match for the recently
reviewed Barbirolli EMI version or the Stein on Decca.
While this set is important for Sibelians the mono sound is bound to be a
disincentive to some. The sound, intrinsically, is not as solid and vivid
as the mono set (of symphonies and a selection of tone poems) from Beulah
(LSO/Collins - originally Decca) sometimes seeming as if a super-fine gauze
hangs between the players and our ears at others lacking that satisfying
squat impact you find in the best mono recordings.
The outlay at bargain price however is not great and anyone with a strong
interest in Sibelius will want these recordings in their library. They provoke
both affection and surprise: a good test for any performance of a piece of
All these recordings were once available on Pye LPs and (if I recall correctly)
briefly on NIXA CDs in the late 1980s.
Regrettably the pauses between tracks are quite inadequate. This is especially
noticeable in the first volume.
The recordings were made about eighteen months before Sibelius's death in
Boult as a Sibelius interpreter may well shatter a few preconceptions
and very much to Sibelius's (and our) advantage.
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