> Jean SIBELIUS - The World of Sibelius [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The World of Sibelius


Symphony No. 3
Valse triste*

Serenade for violin and orchestra, Opus 69 No. 2
Karelia Suite

Boris Belkin (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra*
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Two Songs:
Ver det un dröm?
Flickan kom ifrøn sin Älsklings möte

Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Vienna State Opera Orchestra; Bertil Bokstedt
Rec March 1980, Kingsway Hall, London (Finlandia), May 1983., Kingsway Hall (Symphony No. 3). April 1965, Sofiensaal, Vienna (songs), March 1992, Symphony Hall Boston (Valse Triste), April 1978, Kingsway Hall (Serenade), February 1985, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (Karelia Suite)
DECCA 473 144-2 [73.01]

Vladimir Ashkenazy's Sibelius recordings for Decca, made during the 1980s and early 1990s, added a valuable series of performances to the catalogue. They form the backbone of this 'World of Sibelius' issue.

The chosen repertoire is compelling enough, not always the obvious music but always strongly characterised and well performed and recorded. The Third Symphony, for example, is much less frequently performed than either of the first two; yet to the enthusiastic and informed Sibelian it is surely more truly representative of the composerís genius. Be that as it may, Ashkenazy's beautifully judged and dramatic rendition is more than welcome here. There is no lack of momentum, a particular issue in this among all the symphonies, while there are moments of rare poetry too.

Birgit Nilsson, one of the great singers of the 20th century, gives committed and compelling performances of these two songs, ably accompanied. Although the Viennese musicians must have had little experience of performing Sibelius, they do so with the utmost professionalism, and the results are idiomatic. The orchestra may be relatively in the background in an acoustic which favours Nilsson's richly expansive tones, but the subtleties and atmosphere still make their point.

The remaining times are shorter works by the master, and very popular they heave become. The Finlandia performance has a sweeping energy as its greater strength, although in the later stages there might have been a little more nobility as represented by breadth and sweep. The Karelia Suite is beautifully done: atmospheric as and when required, there is also a degree of tenderness in the slower central movement. Yet this very phenomenon seems under-utilised in the famous Valse Triste, in which an even slower tempo (try Karajan on DGG) brings extra dividends.

Inevitably a compilation such as this is likely to be a mixed bag. But these artists are all distinguished enough to have acquired reputations as performers of Sibelius, and these performances do indicate why this is indeed the case.

Terry Barfoot

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