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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Karelia Suite - Finnish Radio SO/Okko Kamu
Valse Triste - Berlin PO/Karajan
Swan of Tuonela - Berlin PO/Karajan
Symphony No. 2 - Berlin PO/Kamu
Finlandia - Berlin PO/Karajan
Violin Concerto - Christian Ferras/Berlin PO/Karajan
Symphony No. 5 - Berlin PO/Karajan
DG PANORAMA 469 202-2 CD1 [77.03] CD2 [74.36]

You could do much worse than start your Sibelius collection here. My initiation into Sibelius was with DG cassettes of symphonies 4, 6, 7 and Tapiola (Karajan) so in some ways this was a nostalgic voyage. While Karajan had some misfires his Sibelius was often compelling. For some reason he would not record the First and Second Symphonies. That baton was taken up by Karajan protégé, Okko Kamu, whose Karelia has the requisite freshness and bounce. The same, tragically, cannot be said of the arthritic version of the Second Symphony which, though well recorded and clamantly impressive at times in the finale, is not recommendable. The Second sprawls (47.14 - I ask you!) and shudders, suffering in much the same way as the similarly over-extended Barbirolli version on HMV. If you want to experience a different and more successful approach then go for Barbirolli (RPO) on Chesky or Anthony Collins on Beulah though the latter is in mono. The rest is plain sailing. Karajan's Finlandia is imposing though not as impressive as Horst Stein's classic version on Decca. Valse Triste has all the elegant regret one could ask for. The Swan is magical if missing the enchanted intensity of the Mravinsky live version on BMG. Ferras's Violin Concerto is cleanly projected with just enough vibrato (avoid the Belkin). The 1960s sound remains powerful and subtle. A very fine performance even in the face of the Oistrakh on BMG and the Haendel on HMV. The Fifth Symphony (rec 1965, as are the other Karajan items here) is broad, brooding with latent energy, alive to the winds from the Nordic steppes, brimming with a heroism and passion heard first, in less mature form in the Lemminkainen Legends (a must hear in the Ormandy version on HMV). The brass are simply magnificent: rich, burred, eminent and commanding. One of the great Sibelius recordings.

Rob Barnett

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