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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Lemminkainen Suite op. 22 (1896, rev. 1939) [45:50]
Tapiola op. 112 (1923) [15:15]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Helsinki PO/Paavo Berglund
rec. February 1978, The Old Met, Philadelphia, ADD (op. 22); August 1987, Culture Hall, Helsinki, DDD (op. 112). 
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 0946 3 88679 2 0 [61:07] 

Sumptuous sound for a sumptuous performance of the Legends. 

This recording was made during that brief window in time when the Philadelphia were contracted to EMI and were forced to use the Old Met. In fact John Willan and John Kurlander did a slap-up job. The sound is as lavish as the orchestra. And the good memories you may have of the LP are in no way diluted. Whether it is the silvery gleam of the violins in the Swan or the spreading yet tight bass, the rasping brass and wide soundstage, they're all there uncompromised by the digital transfer. Of course this is not the first time this has appeared on CD. There was an identically coupled Studio reissue in the early 1990s. While The Swan of Tuonela might lack the breaking-strain tautness and electricity of the Mravinsky/Leningrad version this is a fine version in anyone’s book. Overall this recording of the suite ranks high. It sounds magnificent and the interpretative values are to match. Ormandy does not let up once and of course he knew the work so well having recorded it with the same orchestra in mono circa 1954 - reissued on Haydn House. If anything that Haydn House recording for CBS was even finer; even faster. After his two-step with EMI Ormandy went on during his final phase with RCA to record quite a few of the Sibelius symphonies. We wait and wait for those to be reissued in the BMG-Sony mainstream rather than via Japanese transfers. His CBS Sony disc of the Second and Seventh symphonies is well worth getting - principally for a magnificent Seventh which can be spoken of in the same breath as Mravinsky's. The Lemminkainen suite has been fortunate over the years. There's an interesting Tauno Hanninkainen 1950s reading on a mono Melodiya LP (via Bearac reissues). I always found the very accessible Jensen DRSO recording rather grey and unmagical - down to Eclipse processing I wonder - but I await hearing Cyrus Meher-Homji's Decca Eloquence reisue with great interest. Berglund never recorded the whole suite (why?) though he has recorded both the Swan and the Homecoming for EMI both with Bournemouth and, I think, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchesta. It was last year I heard him do a very languorous Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari in Brighton with the LPO. He was then very frail and had to be helped gingerly into his conducting seat. It was however a memorable performance leaning on the expansive rather than the impulsive. Mikko Frank on Ondine is good. Järvi (father or son, Bis or Virgin Classics) are not vitally engaging - unusually so. Vänskä (Bis) is excellent yet Colin Davis is unengaging - surprising given his two rather fine but different Kullervos (RCA and LSO Live). Gibson's version on Chandos is worth hearing. For me the best performance I ever heard came from the BBC Training Orchestra (yes, that long ago) conducted I think by Meredith Davies - a broadcast from circa 1971 . Must have been a trick of microphone placement - possibly miscalculated - that the woodwind sang out with such unforced eloquence and immediacy at the expense of other parts of the orchestra. No way will we ever hear that tape again and my own is long gone. In the meantime my top tips would be for this stunning version - which has nothing of American soullessness - in case you were inclined to worry. Also I would suggest the Vänskä version for a completely up to date recording and an extremely good performance. 

Tapiola is down to Berglund and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. It's urgently done with a very clear sense of architecture. I think I have heard more terrifying storms but this is pretty impressive anyway. The main sell here is the Lemminkainen four tone poems but this Tapiola is by no means negligible. 

Good to be reminded in such a forceful way of the golden late afternoon of Ormandy and the Philadelphia's conjoined career. Outstanding Sibelius and outstanding analogue technology.

Rob Barnett 

 

 

 


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