Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 2 Op 43, Finlandia Op. 26, En Saga Op. 9. Pelleas et Melisande Suite Op. 46, Romance in C Op. 42, Andante festivo, Valse Triste, Suite champetre, Suite mignonne Op. 98, Rakastava Op. 14.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/English String Orchestra William Boughton
Nimbus NI7716/7 137m DDD.

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This is a useful Sibelius collection in that it couples works of rousing nationalism with the intimate and rarer string pieces. Boughton's rough and ready interpretation of the Second Symphony is useful but at the end he is no match for Ashkenazy (Decca), Karajan (1960, EMI), Anthony Collins (Beulah, recently deleted) and obviously the highly desirable 1947 Beecham (available on Dutton). The playing of the RPO is sleek and vivid but ultimately the performance fails to catch fire. 'Finlandia' is beautifully played and the rich central theme is of a true noble stature. 'En Saga' suffers from lack of character and I would refer readers to Collins (Beulah) and the much-underrated Horst Stein on a Decca twofer for a more cogently urgent reading of this magical score.

All is not lost however as the second disc in this collection breeds a host of dividends. The doleful and sensual 'Pelleas' music is very captivating; indeed I was many times reminded of Sir Thomas Beecham's magisterial account recently surfaced on a BBC Legends collection. 'Melisande' is particularly mysterious and the polish of the ESO is effective throughout. The same goes for the short Romance and the stirring Andante Festivo. I retain a marked affection for a late 70s EMI Greensleeve LP where Charles Groves recorded most of these works together with the Suites mignonne and champetre although Boughton runs him very close especially in the latter. 'Rakastava' is very pensive and profoundly played. There is more to this music than meets the ear on first hearing. Strong resonant recordings add to the allure of this budget price set which is colourfully annotated. For the second disc alone it is well worth the outlay.


Gerald Fenech


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