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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto [31.36]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Symphony No. 2 [43.41]
En Saga [18.05]
Tapiola [16.30]
Valse Triste [5.04]
Pohjola's Daughter [13.00]
The Bard [7.52]
The Oceanides [9.49]
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
rec 1977 ADD (concerto); 1987-88 DDD
Artistes Répertoires series No. 33
RCA RED SEAL 74321 886 852 [71.18+73.55]


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There have been some gems amongst the forty ‘Artistes Répertoires’ twofer series from BMG. Take the Ozawa Turangalila, the Zinman Koechlin and the Firkusny Martinů double. This collection is built around the young Saraste's Sibelius series. Gidon Kremer's controversial reading of the violin concerto is the dissenting cuckoo in the nest.

Kremer tends to favour the cerebral and does not stop to admire the flowers or share much rapture with the listener. On the other hand if, perish the thought, you have had enough of Oistrakh (BMG-Melodiya), Rachlin (Sony), Haendel (EMI) or Kulenkampff (Music and Arts) then this might just be for you. Recently having recorded the supercharged neo-baroque works of Alfred Schnittke which at one time he seemed to 'own', Kremer here sounds out of sorts. The orchestral role is in safe hands but the tape seems to have suffered in storage for it sometimes trembles. The signal wanders from channel to channel at times; listen to the start of the second movement. The resonance of the final bars of the concerto are cut off far too abruptly. This is a pity because Rozhdestvensky does wonders with the oh-so-familiar orchestral fabric. Kremer is exciting in the finale (his best movement) and the orchestra, time and again, pick out, in coarse grain, gestures and emphases that in other hands can go for nothing. However there is no getting away from it; this is a flawed bloom both audio-technically and interpretatively. So far as the latter is concerned it is nowhere near as deficient as you might have gathered from other reviews.

The music benefits from a high volume setting but suffers from a lack of mass or sheer grunt. Compare the classic FFRR Decca tapes, analogue mark you, of Horst Stein and the Suisse Romande recording Pohjola and En Saga. Perhaps the Finnish Radio orchestra and their hall are to blame but the beauties of this set are to be found in the speedy and the slender. These antelope qualities will suit collectors who prefer their Sibelius without luxuriance. Saraste pushes ahead at all times - not one to dawdle. This makes a change after so much Sibelius where the conductor gives in to the discursive and to dalliance. His timings for the symphony are 43.41 which is pretty swift for this symphony. It benefits strongly from this pacy approach. Compare it with the Koussevitsky on Naxos, the tension-slackened EMI-Barbirolli, Maazel's Pittsburgh (Sony) and the Kamu (with same orchestra) on DG. Even so it is not the equal of the Barbirolli/RPO recording on Chesky or the live Royal Festival Hall recording by Beecham. Saraste's Oceanides is given a towering performance which never slackens it torque wrench grip. His En Saga is also much better than respectable without the blowtorch intensity of Furtwängler (Music and Arts), Horst Stein (Decca and London) or the impatient tetchiness of Boult (Omega Classics). There is a nicely pointed and superbly recorded Valse Triste but kudos to BMG for evading the obvious - no Karelia Suite, no Finlandia, no Swan, no Lemminkainen's Homecoming.

The series' distinctive collage-incongruity style continues unabashed. Packaging: card fold, double stem, a meagre paragraph or three of notes in English and French with timings. Recordings reach forward from 1977 analogue for the concerto to respectable 1988 digital.

A rough and ready presentation - thought-provoking in the case of the concerto and in the Saraste-conducted works a meeting of power and elegance.

Rob Barnett

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