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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Beecham conducts Sibelius: 1935-39

En Saga [17.32]
Lemminkainen's Return [5.57]
The Bard - tone poem [7.10]
Festivo - Scènes Historiques Op. 25 No. 3 [6.57]
Finlandia [8.52]
Symphony No. 4 [37.47]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Rd, 14 Nov 1938 (and 7 July 1939 Kingsway Hall) (En Saga); 12 Oct 1937 (Return); 15 Nov 1938 (Bard); 14 Dec 1935 (Festivo); 1 Feb 1938 (Finlandia); 10 Dec 1937 (Symphony). ADD mono
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110867 [79.05]

As a sampler of Beecham's Sibelius from the 1930s this takes some beating. The only significant lacuna is Beecham's version of the Sixth Symphony (which you can hear on EMI Classics CDM 7 64027 2 Beecham Edition if you can track it down) complete with 78 swish in the first movement.

En Saga has the strange distinction of having been recorded from sessions in two different halls not that it is noticeable. This version does not boil like the molten Furtwängler version (1943) taken down from a wartime concert in Berlin nor does it have the blazing vigour of Horst Stein's miraculously well recorded version on Decca. It is still well worth your 'ear-time' complete with Beecham's caring interventions. Notice, for example, the tender slowing at 10.03 and the 'catch in the throat' in the proto-Tapiola gale at 13.12.

Lemminkainen's Return was one of Beecham's party-pieces in which vertiginous velocity was all part of the fun. Listen to the scudding adrenalin of the cellos at 1.32. The musicians play with furies and flames at their heels: breathtaking but not gabbled. Such a pity that it was not the fashion in the 1930s to perform the complete Lemminkäinen Suite. While we have the supreme 1979 Ormandy on EMI many of us would give our eye teeth if we had them to hear Beecham conducting Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari. Strange too how, in more recent years, that suite has also been shunned by another eminent Sibelian: Paavo Berglund.

After such high jinks comes respite in the shape of that regretful threnody and song of long gone castle evenings, The Bard. This is a pastel miniature touched in with gentle hues rather than garish smears of colour. This is Sibelius at close his minimalist polarity.

Festivo has all the usual virtues - unanimity, sturdy tone, Spanish local colour (2.39) .... and castanets! His Finlandia is imbued with effortful emphasis and deliberation.

I have compared Finlandia with its EMI self on The Beecham Edition EMI Classics CDM 7 63397 2. The EMI sounds clearer, perhaps a shade glassy, and the surface burble is more irregular than on the warmer Naxos.

The Fourth Symphony is the most substantial item here. Kin to The Bard and Luonnotar (will someone please reissue the Schneevoight recording of that piece?) this is the most elusive of Sibelius's symphonies. It stands aside from the romantic tumult and presents an aspect of the cold-eyed remoteness of Holst's Betelgeuse, Egdon Heath and parts of the Hymn of Jesus. Comparing the Naxos transfer with its version on CDM 7 64027 2 the Naxos is at a disadvantage. There is a liveliness, an impact, even a shrillness and pristine focus that is not there to the same degree in the Naxos. This is somewhat academic as Beecham Edition, EMI Classics CDM 7 64027 2 is long deleted but if you see it do buy it. Not only does the Fourth sound better it is also coupled with the Sixth Symphony and other shorter pieces.

Good documentation, fully detailed by Lyndon Jenkins no less. Mark Obert-Thorn wields his usual benevolent wand over the transfer process. In his note he points out that he used pre-War US Victor Gold Label pressings except for Finlandia which was from a Columbia 'Full range' label disc.

I should just point out that playing time is about as generous as it could be.

An outstanding bargain in every respect. Go for it. If you want modern sound in these works then opt for Ashkenazy or Maazel on the Fourth and though hardly modern Horst Stein or Barbirolli in Finlandia and En Saga.

Rob Barnett

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