Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
En Saga op.9(1), Lemminkaïnenís Return op.22/4 (2), The Bard op.64 (3), Festivo op.25/3 (4), Finlandia op.26 (5), Symphony no. 4 in a minor op.63 (6)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Location: EMI Abbey Road Studio no. 1 (part of En Saga recorded in Kingsway Hall)
Dates: 14.11.38 and 7.7.39 (1), 12.10.37 (2), 15.11.38 (3), 14.12.35 (4), 1.2.38 (5), 10.12.37 (6)
CD transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS Historical 8.110867 [79:05]


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Since Beechamís famous recording of Sibelius 4 was transferred to LP by A. C. Griffith and issued on World Record Club around 1970 it has rarely been out of the catalogue in one form or another. In 1991 the Griffith transfer appeared on CD as part of EMIís Beecham Edition, coupled with the performances of Lemminkaïnenís Return and The Bard which are also included here, plus the Prelude to The Tempest and the 1947 version of the Sixth Symphony.

Working presumably from the original metal masters Griffith found slightly more body to the sound and a wider dynamic range. He also reduced the surfaces more than has been done here, producing results which, in the quieter passages, might lead the innocent listener to suppose he is listening to a more recent recording. But the first forte passage in the symphony produces considerable distortion which is not present on the Naxos transfer and the heavier passages of Lemminkaïnenís Return incline towards shrillness.

I have sometimes criticised Mark Obert-Thorn for trying to get too much out of these old recordings at the cost of excessive stridency. In the present case he seems content to offer a straightforward reproduction of what the original 78s sounded like played on the best possible equipment. Any further intervention has been done very discreetly. The sound has very slightly less impact than the Griffith transfer, but it is also smoother and has less distortion. In either transfer the softer passages are remarkably detailed. By a small margin I prefer the Naxos; not to the extent that you should go out and get it if you have the performances in some other form but if you do not you can safely buy this inexpensive disc.

And you should do so. Few records could demonstrate better the dichotomy which still exists between Beechamís flippant image and the dedicated musicianship of his actual conducting Ė few records, that is, except for most of his others! Recording music which was still relatively new his approach is totally free of any playing to the gallery or egotistical distortion. His sombre Finlandia can stand alongside his Scheherazade and his Symphonie Fantastique as examples of his almost cynically underplaying an old warhorse, and thereby making its musical values shine as few others have since. It is also to be noted that the producer Walter Legge sent test pressings of the Fourth to Sibelius who found them "excellent"; any conductor could have felt well satisfied but Beecham took the symphony into the studio again in order to incorporate some small suggestions, including the manufacture of a special set of bells to replace the more commonly used glockenspiel. Since Sibeliusís own performances of his music were not recorded, Beechamís poetic, majestic and vital visitation of the score may be taken as definitive.

With a good note by Lyndon Jenkins (though I would like to have known why En Saga was split between two venues and two dates several months apart) this is a self-recommending issue.

Christopher Howell

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