Berlin Classics continue to ring the changes
on their back catalogue. The mainstay of their Sibelius 'window'
is Kurt Sanderling's complete cycle, made in the 1970s and now
an astounding bargain on Brilliant Classics. Clustered around
it there are isolated symphonies recorded by Kegel, Garaguly and
Kegel engages with the Sibelius symphony one
would most have expected this acolyte of the avant-garde to take
up. Kegelís Fourth is expansive [35.03]. One could never
sensibly accuse Kegel of taking the piece lightly. Sound quality
is very agreeable and far from bland. The Leipzig RSO's first
cello chose not to infuse as much character into the work as his
Viennese counterpart in the Maazel Decca set. Kegel's high violins,
when piling on the pressure, sound terrific - refined and yet
red-blooded - for example at 6.06 in the first movement. The tempo
largo movement is extremely atmospheric recorded in an ideally
resonant acoustic. This is a freshly envisioned reading which
you are unlikely to leave without questioning assumptions you
may previously have made about Kegel.
Now we turn to Berglund. In 1970 he recorded
the Sixth Symphony and The Swan with the Berlin
Radio Symphony. Between 1972 and 1977 he was to record all seven
for EMI with the orchestra of which he had be then become principal
conductor circa 1971. The kindling for that Bournemouth Symphony
Orchestra cycle was the phenomenally successful world premiere
recording of the Kullervo Symphony. For that two LP set
Berglund had the orchestra members playing their hearts out -
indistinguishable from a world class orchestra. The recording
which was also superb technically was as critical to the orchestraís
status as had been the Silvestri In the South a decade
earlier. It was no wonder that the EMI bosses gave the full cycle
In Berlin in 1970 Berglund directed a passionate
version of the Sixth though its closely miked sonics are not a
patch on Berglund's Bournemouth Sibelius. Berglund recorded the
seven in three locations: The Guildhall, Southampton, the Abbey
Road Studios and, in the case of the Sixth, in the Kingsway Hall,
London. Listening to the two versions one after the other the
Berglund/Bournemouth (part of a completed cycle on Disky HR703862)
trounces with ripeness and refinement the dense and single dimensional
Berlin sound. However nothing is straightforward. Just taking
the Poco Vivace movement (III) there is no contest: as
a piece of recreative work the Berlin version coheres, flows with
warmth and radiates energy. The Disky version is halting by comparison
even if the sonics are superior.
What can one say about The Swan?
The Berlin version has all the virtues and vices of the Sixth
Symphony with more than a hint of analogue overload at 5.13. Again
I compared this with Berglund on Disky's set. This is naturalistically
balanced, refined in string sound, allowing some air and spatial
illusion between listener and front row of the violins.
This disc is a mixed bag. Two very good symphonies:
Kegel provocatively intellectual without being cerebral in 4,
Berglund unblushingly high tensile in 6. The Swan suffers
from overload. The Kegel sounds remarkably good despite its vintage
but both Berglunds are in your face - too much so in the case
of The Swan.
Minimal notes and card fold sleeve rather than
jewel case. We must hope for Berlin Classics' versions of symphonies
1, 2, 7 and Tapiola conducted by Garaguly.