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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (1906) [31.35]
En Saga Op. 9 (1892) (1) [20.31] (1)
En Saga Op. 9 (1892) (2) [20.29] (2)
Georg Kulenkampf (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Berlin Philharmonie, 7-8 Feb 1943 (concerto and En Saga 1); Stockholm, 25 Sept 1950 (En Saga 2) AAD
MUSIC & ARTS CD-799 [72.47]


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Kulenkampff plays up a storm in the Concerto. With a style like a reckless Oistrakh one is rapidly captivated by this playing. There are some strange mannerisms, phrasal shapings, agogic adjustments but one is left with little choice other than to go with the luscious and perilous flow. Kulenkampf comes to grief once or twice in his almost salacious vertiginous onrush but he certainly punches the lights out of most studio versions. This is by no means the only version to have in your collection but for anyone wanting an antidote to the predictable this is very special indeed.

There is much more audio damage in the same 1943 concert's En Saga than in the concerto. In fact M&A's prominent warning about the sound derived from the Magnetophon tape is hardly warranted at all in the case of the concerto. The brittle distortion of the first few bars of En Saga soon dissipates (though returns at 4.30 and 11.07 - always in the difficult though hushed mysterious textures). Although coarse sounding the subtle weave of the music and its braw strings-led romance are not sold at all short. Strange quickenings e.g. at 2.58 may raise the odd eyebrow but this is rattlingly good Sibelius which is likely to have you asking friends if they have any other Furtwängler Sibelius. I have just been listening to M&A's 1952 Toscanini En Saga. The difference is a greater spontaneity and inflammatory tendency in the hands of Furtwängler. Toscanini is in control and is exciting but there is more danger and risk-embracing in Furtwängler as in the smoking accelerations at 16.57. After such magma explosions the Stockholm version, though a couple of seconds quicker and with some lovingly scuplted and tender touches (10.43), sounds ... well ... tired and careful; not a patch on the Berlin concerts of seven years previously.

It was no fault of Sibelius's that amongst non-German composers his music was played the most frequently in Nazi Germany. There is a strange sense of place and presence in these documents of the concerto and the first En Saga both taken down in 1943 at the Berlin Philharmonie with Germany's foremost orchestra.

Stormingly dug-in Sibelius from Kulenkampf and Furtwängler. A concerto to put beside the Oistrakh (BMG Melodiya), Haendel (EMI) and the Julian Rachlin (Sony). Such a pity that Kulenkampf was never let loose on the Six Humoresques.

Rob Barnett

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