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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 (1901) [42.13]
Symphony No. 3 (1907) [28.08]
Symphony No. 5 (1918) [29.46]
Swan of Tuonela (1896) [8.35]
Valse Triste (1903) [5.11]
Andante Festivo (1922) [4.28]
Oslo PO/Mariss Jansons
rec. May 1992, Aug 1994, Konserthuset, Oslo. DDD
EMI CLASSICS DOUBLE FFORTE 7243 5 75673 2 9 [2 CDs: 60.53+57.57]


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In the 1980s Mariss Jansons made his presence felt on the international stage with a still impressive cycle of the six numbered symphonies by Tchaikovsky plus Manfred. The company who took the gamble was Chandos. The orchestra was the Oslo Phil. So far so good.

EMI began to cast covetous eyes towards this partnership and were looking, quite naturally, to capitalise on Chandos's success. The Sibelius symphonies were a natural successor to Tchaikovsky's - all the better that Jansons had a grounding in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) where both Evgeny Mravinsky and Arvid Jansons had produced some notably accomplished and intense Sibelius. Combine this with the fact that here was Jansons with a Nordic orchestra in Nordic music. The signs were surely good. In any event EMI were looking for its equivalent of the Maazel or Ashkenazy (Decca) or Davis (Philips) cycles of Sibelius symphonies. It seems that neither Rattle's work with the CBSO nor Berglund's with the Helsinki PO had quite hit the spot for EMI.

That is the way things turned out or almost. The sound quality across these two discs is stunning with the orchestra presented with burnished colours and natural strength. For some reason EMI never completed the cycle of seven. Only numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5 were issued. I have never heard Jansons' No. 1 but it is reputed to be very good. The Second Symphony is a strong contender and if you pick up this set this version is no lame duck. The Third is the antithesis of the Second - a cutting free and striking away from Tchaikovskian climactic romance - a moving towards the cool classical yet humane ideals that shine from the Sixth Symphony. While I have heard the ostinato played more tightly this goes well enough. The second movement lacks tension. The piece is superbly recorded - a comment that applies to both discs. The heroic Fifth comes off even better. It is not ponderous, enjoys a wide stereo spread and with wondrous depth and breadth in the sound-stage. Jansons builds tension steadily. The ppp intensity registers with profound pleasure (tr. 7 at 4.18). Decent versions of the shorter Sibeliana. Why on earth do the shorter pieces have to cover the same old territory? Why was Jansons not steered towards The Oceanides, Nightride and Sunrise or Pohjola's Daughter?

A pleasing issue, then. Jansons is sympathetic to the Sibelian ethic. A pity that the recorded cycle was never completed. Was this simply that the tapes were never issued or were the sessions simply cancelled or never booked?

Rob Barnett

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