> Jean Sibelius - Symphony No. 2/5 [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 (1902) [41.11]
Symphony No. 5 (1917) [30.03]
Boston SO/Serge Koussevitsky
rec Symphony Hall, Boston, 24 Jan 1935 (2); 29 Dec 1936 (5). ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110170 [71.14]


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Koussevitsky is renowned as a Sibelian. He, with Olin Downes, was a staunch champion of the Finn and after the death of Kajanus the UK Sibelius Society turned to Koussevitsky and Beecham to continue the symphonies on record. He was also said to be amongst the most resolute in the pursuit of the finally aborted Eighth Symphony; mind you many people claimed to be dedicated pursuers of that particular grail.

Koussevitsky is not to be easily dismissed in Sibelius however in the Second Symphony he equates sonority with a broad approach to tempi and I do not feel that he keeps up the whipcrack tension in the same way that say Beecham and Barbirolli (Chesky/RPO) do. This for me almost recalls the Okko Kamu version on DG. The sonority of the Boston violins and their clean articulation do impress as in the third and fourth movements. Still and all, the over-pointed and overly deliberate pace of the finale do not work for me.

Almost two years later and things improve a notch or two for the Fifth Symphony although tempi become far too expansive in the finale which needs a far more weighty swing than it gets here. If you like your Sibelius very broad then this is for you. The tension is stepped up at various points as at 5.58 in the first movement where I have not previously heard the whispered icy strings driven with such tension. Koussevitsky proves himself a master-builder in the heroic tolling statements at 0714 (first movement). In the second movement he is a shade too deliberate - almost four square. The brass irruptions do not have the mordant grip of the most vital accounts.

I should mention that Mark Obert-Thorn's documentation gives the provenance of these recordings as Red Seal Scroll (2) and Victor Gold label (5). The latter is slightly quieter in terms of background burble. Oddly enough it seemed marginally to have intrinsically less aural bite than the recording of the second.

I did a few spot checks with the 1990 Pearl 2CD set (GEMM CDS 9408 - bronzed but still playing without problem at least in the sample tracks I tried) which has the Boston Symphony and Koussevitsky in the same two symphonies plus Swanwhite, Tapiola and Pohjola's Daughter. This is with the famous Koussevitsky version of Symphony No 7 (BBC Symphony). Once again the restoration engineer was Mark Obert-Thorn. The end result was very similar except that the speckling of small and vestigial clicks and crackles has been adeptly stripped out in the Naxos transfer.

Superior documentation, as usual, from Naxos and the authors are Ian Julier and Mark Obert-Thorn.

Mark Obert-Thorn has done well by the original material wisely leaving alone the eminently ignorable gentle burble of surface noise. The immediacy is completely uncompromised.

I have high hopes that Naxos might look at the rare Sibelius on LP and 78. The early 1950s Rozhdestvensky and Hannikainen on Melodiya should be worth looking out as should the Ormandy Minneapolis 1 and Kurt Sanderling's Sibelius with the Leningrad Phil on Melodiya.

Rob Barnett

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