> Jean Sibelius - Symphony No.2 [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 (1902) [43.17]
The Tempest: Caliban's Song; Canon; Humoresque; Oak Tree [6.44]
Karelia Suite: Intermezzo; Alla Marcia [6.52]
Tapiola [17.49]
Royal PO (Tapiola; Sym 2); BBCSO (Karelia);
Thomas Beecham
rec 21, 23, 24 Dec 1946, 8, 9 Feb 1947 (Sym 2); 4 Oct 1934 (Tempest); 13 Dec 1945 (Karelia); 25 Nov 1946 (Tapiola) ADD - Mono - transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn
BIDDULPH WHL055 [75.14]


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Beecham took up Sibelius's music long after he took on the role of Delius's crusading angel. This happened in the 1930s with Beecham following in the tracks of Wood, Bantock and Cameron. It did not taker him long to leave all of them behind in the snow. Boult also discovered Sibelius in this decade and his own orchestra can be heard here. There is the softest of ironies that these later discoveries happened at a stage when the composer was all but finished creatively.

Biddulph here present commercially released recordings - three from the immediate post-war period and one from the mid-thirties. The Tempest vignettes were still paint-wet when recorded and they make a delightful impression contrasting in their wan exploratory probing grace with the proto-brutality of the Prelude/Storm. The Oak Tree perhaps gives hints of the way his Eighth Symphony would have sounded. They were recorded shortly after the UK premiere of a selection of Tempest scenes at the 1934 Leeds Festival. The 78s were only ever issued in the USA and copies are not numerous. These are therefore valuable as documents close to contemporary with the premiere in the mid-1920s. The sound quality is perceptibly less open than that of the other tracks but the mind's ear soon adapts. They were recorded by Walter Legge using a mobile unit driven up from London to Leeds.

Karelia: The Intermezzo must have been marked accelerando if Beecham's sprint is anything to go by. He vies with Ormandy's 's Lemminkainen's Return (on Biddulph WHL 062). The alla marcia is taken at a pace most will recognise but the jerk-accenting is special as is the furious verve of the winds especially the flutes. It is this elemental violence that also blasts into the marrow of the flute tone in the RPO's 1946 Tapiola. The steely gale and steam-whistle lightning slash at 16.04 has never been excelled to best of my knowledge. This is the calibre of evenet that Decca would have captured if only they had continued the 1972 Suisse Romande, Horst Stein sessions; the ones that produced the outstanding Sibelius tone poem collection of the 1970s (Pohjola, En Saga, Nightride, Finlandia). One can only lament that Beecham did not record Nightride and Sunrise, Luonnotar, Kullervo, En Saga and that there is no Beecham Third or Fifth Symphony and that his EMI Seventh is so pulseless.

A dozen years and a world war later Beecham we encounter Beecham in the Second Symphony. This is very satisfying if not outstanding. Note the plaintive meaning lent by Beecham to woodwind at 3.33 in the first movement. In the second movement I noticed a brass band warble in the trumpets - had never heard that before. The orchestra do not give the sort of blade-edge precision as the Philadelphians of Ormandy and Stokowski in another Biddulph issued at the same time as this disc. Beecham certainly demonstrates a skilled architectonic control in 5.40 of the finale of symphony. However overall this does not buzz and sizzle as much as his 1954 Royal Festival Hall performance complete with Beecham's hoarse shouts of climactic encouragement. The effect in comparison is like hearing the Elgar Cello Concerto in the lauded Barbirolli EMI studio performance and then comparing it with the oft-disdained unruly combustible passion of Dupré's Philadelphia recording for CBS-Sony.

First class English-only notes by Malcolm Walker. Thanks go to Richard Kaplan, Michael Gartz and Don Tait for the loan of the source material.

Rob Barnett


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