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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 [44.23]
Luonnotar [8.08]
Pohjoa's Daughter [12.40]
Phyllis Curtin (sop) (in Luonnotar)
New York PO/Leonard Bernstein
rec Philharmonic Hall, now Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, NYC, 16 May 1966 (symphony); 19 Oct 1965 (Luonnotar); Manhattan Center, 1 May 1964 (Pohjola) ADD
SONY CLASSICAL SMK 61848 [65.36]


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Bernstein's 1960s Sibelius carries a good reputation and the latest bargain reissue on French Sony of the seven symphonies should do well when it finds its way outside France and Japan. The set used to be on two mid-price Sony Royal Classics boxes but the sensible thing to do now, if you want them all, is to wait for the French Sony box to turn up or to keep your fingers crossed that all the symphonies will be issued via the newly re-branded 'Take 2' Essential Classics series.

The present disc has been around since 2000 in sound re-mastered using 20 bit technology. It sounds as good as it ever has with the bad old days of those mid-price CBS LPs long gone. Truly the sound has come up fresh as paint and the only downside is the print-through pre-echo you get when a silence precedes a loud brass exclamation as in the second movement.

Bernstein keeps things pressed forward in the Second Symphony. As one would expect in a symphony written in Sibelius's Tchaikovskian-romantic phase, the conductor is in his element, aided by a recording that brings out so many fine touches which go for nothing in other recordings. Try the stuttering accompanimental string figures at 6.48 in the second movement.

This is a stirring reading - whipped and hoarse. I would not place it above the Ormandy (also Sony Essential Classics) but it is an imaginative and fiery piece of recreative work.

Luonnotar goes quite well with a very fast pulse - faster than I have ever heard it. The strings sound fine as does the harp. Curtin gives a pointful performance giving every sign of wanting to enunciate the delightful Finnish words. She is a great improvement on Ashkenazy's Decca Söderström whose vibrato seriously damages the piece. Better are Berglund's Taru Valjakka (in an eight CD EMI Sibelius bargain box) and Panula's Mari-Anne Häggander (on Bis CD270). Curtin's sometimes unmaidenly tone is not ideal but works well most of the time.

Bernstein's Pohjola's Daughter is again good - very good in fact with the usual taught and tightly articulated string work (the little pizzicato rush at 3.39 is an example of Bernstein's freshly imagined approach) and well-characterised woodwind. He occasionally undermines things by rapid tempi that strike me as thoughtless or done with the aim of display alone. It does not displace the early 1970s Decca recording by the Suisse Romande conducted by Horst Stein. This Weekend Classics collection also contains a glorious En Saga and a black as coal Finlandia.

I have the highest praise for the sound quality reborn from the original tapes. The strings sound fantastically clean. It is a tribute to the original producers (John McClure, Thomas Z Sheppard, Richard Killough) and to the reissue team of Louise de la Fuente and Rob Rapley.

Sibelius interpretation that is never dull.


Rob Barnett


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