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
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
Sibelius interpretation that is never dull.