Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
En Saga
The Swan of Tuonela
The Oceanides

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
Rec February - March 1996, Stockholm Concert Hall

APEX 09274 06202
[75.48] Budgetprice

Crotchet   AmazonUK  

With good orchestral playing and intelligent conducting this Sibelius compilation has much to commend it. The Stockholm connection has a strong tradition as far as this composer is concerned, including the 1924 premiere of the Seventh Symphony, and the authenticity of the orchestral sound world is never in doubt at any stage.

The recording too is clear and well focused, if cut at a relatively low level. However, any reasonably good equipment can provide the necessary boost, if domestic circumstances allow such a thing. This was originally recorded for Finlandia in 1996, and is now taken up by Warner Classics' Apex series.

Someone at Warner ought to have another look at the design of the booklets for this series. Why have such tight-packed small print on glossy paper when the whole of the back page of the four pages is left entirely blank? It makes no sense.

As for the performances, any criticisms are on the level of interpretation, by the listener as well as by the artists; for anyone acquiring this disc can be guaranteed the satisfaction of knowing that the music is well served. The climaxes build with a brooding intensity that is thoroughly Sibelian, though occasionally, and particularly in Tapiola, that intensity might have reached a darker power.

There is also a sense of structural control and the longer term vision this implies. In this respect Tapiola goes very well; here and elsewhere the tempi always seem right for the purpose. Of course the field of recordings of this repertoire is very competitive, featuring some real 'classics of the gramophone'. And it is no use pretending that Davis matches Beecham in the nuances of texture and phrasing that make such miraculous effect in The Oceanides. Beecham remains a clear leader in this piece, partly because his recording from the late 1950s still sounds so well. The word 'historical' need not apply on this occasion.

Sometimes the orchestral balances for Davis and the Stockholm orchestra have a pallid feel, and the two most notable and extended solos in these pieces both suffer in this regard. The great cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela is surely too recessed in the perspective, with a resultant lack of brooding intensity. So too the closing phase of En Saga allows too little of the clarinet's personality to make its mark.

Such doubts need to be placed in the context, however, of the thoughtful and sensitive performances of a true Sibelian.

Terry Barfoot

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