Jean SIBELIUS (1985-1957)
Symphony No. 1 (1899) [38.23]
Symphony No. 5 (1918) [30.57]
Atlanta SO/Yoel Levi
rec Symphony Hall, Atlanta, Georgia, 1-2 Dc 1989, 17-18 Mar 1990. DDD
TELARC CLASSICS CD-80246 [70.05]


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These are both very good interpretations showing an urgent empathy with Sibelius's music. Levi shows himself to be a perceptive Sibelian and his tendency to make new points along the way enhances the effect. His orchestra is good with deeply satisfying and gripping brass playing and a woodwind section well up to high standard. The recording belongs in Telarc's central tradition: high on testosterone with the glitz under control.

What a good though unusual coupling this makes! This is Sibelius the hero. The First Symphony impresses immediately with a very quiet tensely chattering introduction rising to a thunderstorm of nationalistic protest at 3.02 of I. Each angularity and curve is brought out - something I found refreshing; others might, I suppose, find it mannered. A virile scherzo fairly bustles along. The finale, flecked with tragic Tchaikovskian endeavour, recalls one of the best performances in the Barbirolli EMI set. The Fifth Symphony is mature Sibelius. Levi takes the same approach as he does with the First. Dynamic extremes are wide-spaced. After an introduction that is a mite relaxed Levi builds both the tension and the gigantic swing and stride of the work. While Levi is certainly in touch with the drama of the music he remains a subtle colourist as the warp and woof of aptly weighted woodwind lines prove. Try the delicate filigree of the start of the andante to hear what I mean (tr.6). The taut string writing can also be heard in the rustle and scrape of the allegro molto as the ground is laid for the bell motif horn anthem and for the haloed, exhausted and nostalgic return of the theme at 6.41.

Vintage heroic Sibelius from Levi and Atlanta.

Rob Barnett

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