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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Kullervo, op. 7 [71:45]
The Oceanides, op. 73 [10:51]
Karelia Suite, op. 11: 1. Intermezzo, 3. Alla marcia [8:48]
Scènes historiques: Suite no. 1, op. 25 [16:24]
Tapiola, op. 112 [18:07]
Finlandia, op. 26 [8:02]
Two Serenades, op. 69 [6:45, 6:44]
Raili Kostia (soprano), Usko Vitanen (baritone)
Helsinki University Male Choir (op. 7)
Ida Haendel (violin) (op. 69)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
rec. December 1970 (op. 7) January 1972 (op. 11 & 26), May 1972 (op. 73 & 112), August 1975 (op. 25 & 69), Guildhall, Southampton. ADD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 2176742 [71.45 + 76.10]
Experience Classicsonline

Early and late; familiar and rarity – all drawn from EMI’s princely analogue archive of the 1970s. This Gemini double strikes a brave balance.
We might be forgiven for forgetting that until this recording of Kullervo appeared in 1970 the symphony was pretty much unknown – certainly unheard. This was its first commercial recording. Berglund was still very new to the Bournemouth orchestra but he quickly struck a rapport with his audience in the South and West from Bristol to Exeter, Plymouth to Poole. I recall hearing my first Sibelius – the Fifth Symphony – with the BSO conducted by Berglund at University Great Hall, Exeter. At the same concert Gyorgy Pauk played the Brahms Concerto. When studying in Bristol the BSO and Berglund were regular and frequent presences at the Colston Hall.
It may be long in the tooth now but this first ever commercial recording of Kullervo still takes some beating even if it is on tape stock. Berglund’s second version with the Helsinki Phil isn’t a patch on it though it was preferred over the Bournemouth one when EMI were looking for a Kullervo for its Matrix series back in the 1990s. Granted, the analogue hiss is noticeable but the recording remains vintage vibrant EMI technology even almost forty years on. It was re-mastered in 2000 for the classic Sibelius EMI bargain box. The unanimity and life-imbued weight of the singing still carries the day although do not forget the range of other fine versions including the superb Spano (Telarc), Salonen (Sony) and Segerstam (Ondine) and the two very different Colin Davis ones (RCA and LSO Live). The Spano would probably be my first choice for that blend of fine muscular sound and interpretative values.
The second disc starts with a suitably gentle and feminine Oceanides which rises to a strong climax before fading away. This is more Mediterranean than Baltic which is quite suitable given Sibelius’s predilection for Italy. The Karelia suite outer movements are buoyant and not too bombastic. Interesting how in the Alla Marcia the usually subordinated counter-melody in the brass gets a prominence I have not heard before in any other performance. The fine lighter mezzotints of the Scènes historiques contrast with the grim Tapiola yet the latter lacks the wonderful concentration brought to it by my Sibelius discovery of the Van Beinum (Eloquence). The Finlandia starts rather slackly but soon tautens. The recording lacks the lignite black impact of Stein/OSR on Decca. The First Serenade is a gentle effusion – in the spirit of the Beethoven and Stenhammar romances. Things become slightly more urgent in a folksy way for the Second which seems more akin to the wonderful six Humoresques – try these in the hands of Aaron Roasnd on Vox - than to the other two character pieces: Ab imo pectore and Laetare anima mea. Even so these two overlooked pieces sometimes look slantwise towards the world of the Fourth Symphony. [By the way does anyone have the CD of Ralph Holmes playing the Sibelius pieces for violin and orchestra with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and Vernon Handley (Koch)?]
A nice inexpensive selection then and a good way to explore Sibelius’s lesser known pieces.
Rob Barnett


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