The main object of this review is to make music-lovers aware of
the release of two great Sibelius recordings.
John Barbirolli was one of the foremost advocates of Sibelius,
often finding a similarity between his Italian landscape and
that of Finland! He made four recordings of Sibelius 2 from the NYPO in 1940 (Dutton
CDEA 5016), the 1950s
Pye recording to the Hallé’s “curates egg” complete
cycle on EMI in the 1960s.
Rob Barnett points out in his review of the Hallé set, neither No.2
nor No.5 were as strong performances as some of the others. I
was aware of the present Reader’s Digest recording of the Second
and its qualities but as a single full-price CD running to a mere
43 minutes it was never purchased; a similar example was Carlos
Kleiber’s DG Beethoven 5 and 7 which I only got when the two recordings
were put together at mid-price!
recording of Sibelius 2 was made in London with an orchestra which was unfamiliar to Sir John. Evocatively, as
pointed out in Robert Matthew-Walker’s fine notes, Sir John
visited his dying mother for the last time during the recording.
It is a fantastic performance, free of any idiosyncrasies and
the RPO play their heart out. Despite my love of Beecham, and
strong respect for Rattle and Davis, I would be happy to live with this recording as my definitive Sibelius
2, which is my favourite of the seven. Not having heard the
Chesky CD (CD-3)
I’m unable to compare the transfer but it sounds great to me.
The original recording is a tribute to the legendary Kenneth
Wilkinson. I only wish we’d had Readers Digest LPs (later RCA)
of this quality at my school rather than the magazine!
Hallé studio recording of Sibelius 5 was criticised by RB
as slack and fey but the BBC recording from the Royal Albert Hall is in
a different class. Previously on the short lived BBC Radio Classics
label (15656 91882), Testament have refurbished the sound significantly
and through my new Cambridge Audio CD & Amplifier I felt
I was in the RAH! Whilst recorded prior to the acoustic “mushrooms”
the BBC engineers seem to have done great work to avoid “double
echo”. I found it more “comfortable” than Vänskä’s recent digital
version on Bis. The performance is exhilarating and well paced
and is a sheer joy from start to finish. This is a classic version
to my ears; I will leave it to others to place it in the Sibelius
5 league table! It’s certainly much more humane and heartfelt
than Karajan’s splendid DG recording.
RB stated of No.2 “this is a platinum performance
played with explosive rips and tugs of energy”; I felt this
was true of both performances and would be a great introduction
to these works. Nearly forty years after his death Barbirolli’s
greatness is being even more appreciated by those sadly too
young to have heard him live.
off to Testament - for me this was worth every penny of the asking
David R Dunsmore