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|Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Finlandia Op. 26 No. 7 (1899) [7:08]
Symphony No. 1 in E minor Op. 39 (1898) [32:56]
Pelléas and Mélisande Op.46 (excerpts from incidental
music) (1905) [14:56]
Symphony No.7 in C major op. 105 (1924) [17:48]
Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. live, Helsinki University’s Festival Hall, 17 June 1953,
GUILD GHCD2341 [78:55]
This disc is of the greatest
musical interest. It contains a complete concert from Helsinki
entirely devoted to the music of Sibelius in which the Helsinki
City Orchestra is conducted by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977).
did not lack for concert performances during his long life.
Ironically this popularity coincided with his ceasing ambitious
composition activity after circa 1925. Kajanus, Wood, Bantock,
Beecham, Stokowski, Ormandy, Collins and so many others took
his music worldwide. It held the stage until the lurch of
fashion moved it into eclipse for a decade or so after Sibelius’s
death. After this the upswing in interest guaranteed it recordings
from a new generation of conductors including Maazel. Even
then Boult, Cameron and Collins championed the symphonies
during the post-mortem ‘darkness’. Now, some fifty years
after the composer’s death recordings abound. Most recently
we have had three momentous volumes of Bis's glorious Complete
Sibelius series alongside a landslide of new recordings
Guild collection is new to the commercial recording field.
It is decidedly vintage stuff but those who demand exemplary
modern sound will want to pass it by. Dedicated Sibelians
will however be snapping it up and they will be right to
do so. Stokowski championed so many contemporary composers
during his years with the Philadelphians and in the long
'wilderness' years after that. He certainly knew his Sibelius
and was widely respected in this repertoire. This led to
the prized invitation to Helsinki as the conductor of the
valedictory concert in Helsinki's Sibelius Festival in 1953,
a mere four years before the composer's death in 1957.
recordings derive from second generation transcriptions of
a CBS complete concert broadcast and incorporates audience
applause as well as hall ambience. The latter is felt most
strongly during the announcements. Radio commentary is included
with the commentator reminding us that Sibelius was listening
to the concert in Järvenpäa over the wireless. Who is the
announcer please? His voice and manner is both agreeable
a stern, whiplash-gruff Finlandia, reminiscent of
the excellent Horst Stein/SRO recording on Decca, comes the
First Symphony. This was a work which Stokowski was to re-record
in London in 1976 for CBS within a year of his own death.
On that occasion his orchestra was Sidney Sax's National Philharmonic.
Here we have a tetchy, even vituperative, reading in which
the predominant impression is of acceleration – even impatience.
The Helsinki players are pushed to the limit. This is among
the very speediest Sibelius Ones (32:56). Compare this with
Barbirolli’s Hallé EMI Classics recording at 41:50. That
said, there is respite and balm in the yearning Andante (II
1:02). As is the case throughout this disc the mono sound
is of unrefined AM quality. You also have to resign yourself
to some rustling distortion and a few worse moments (I, 7:55).
These only register transiently and then only if you let
yourself be distracted from what is going on with the orchestra.
are also five episodes from the music for Pelléas and
Mélisande: a hesitant Mélisande with a lovely
lippy oboe principal, a grumbling and rockingly inimical By
the Sea in which sea is a shuddering horror, a translucent
and lovingly shaped Pastorale in which the solo flute
is an airy dancer and a Golovanov-hard-pressed Entr'Acte (just
a shade too breathless and impatient). There’s also a well
sustained and intense The Death of Mélisande in which
the piled-on string tone suffers from distortion.
am in two minds about this Seventh. It pushes forward purposefully
but its epic qualities are generalised. Compared with Ormandy
this is sometimes almost ordinary, even perfunctory. Mravinsky
- and his Melodiya engineers - made more of the hieratic
eminence of the trombone and the whooping climax at 15:10.
I should also just note that with the disc under review there
is some hissing and tizzing distortion at 10:34. On the other
hand more is made of the storm element and parallels are
drawn, consciously or unwittingly, with the Prelude to The
Tempest and the supernal gale in Tapiola. A firm
grip is maintained by Stokowski on the sense of grandeur
and summation that soaks the final two minutes of this performance.
insightful notes are by Robert Matthew-Walker who time and
again hits the spot with fresh observations and perspectives.
Interesting to be reminded that Stokowski, like all his contemporaries,
including that doyen of the Sibelius acolytes Kajanus, failed
to leave a complete cycle of the symphonies. This honour
ultimately fell to Ehrling, Collins and Watanabe.
will quite properly want this invaluable collection. I hope
that Guild have more Sibelius concerts in their recording
roster. What I wouldn't give to hear Stokoswski conducting Pohjola's
Daughter or some of the symphonies conducted by Basil
Cameron one-time conductor of the SFSO and once-known as
Basil Hindenberg! Meantime do snap up this collection and
you will encounter a mixed Seventh, a white hot First, and
a very fine Pelléas suite.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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