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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D [41:54]
Finlandia [7:43]
Cleveland Orchestra/Yoel Levi
Rec. Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland, 2 April 1984, DDD
TELARC CD-80095 [49:37]

Levi is too easily forgotten amongst the welter of complete Sibelius recordings. Who pays attention to his versions when there is Maazel (twice), Ashkenazy, Berglund (three times mark you), Gibson, Colin Davis (twice - just coming up to third time around), Oramo (outstanding), Rattle, Segerstam and so many others?

In fact Levi’s Sibelius is well worth your attention. Anyone who knows his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra disc coupling Sibelius 1 and 5 (Telarc CD80246 - also reviewed here) will not be surprised to hear that the present disc presents a very considerable reading of the Second Symphony. This Second combines the opposite poles of incendiary emotion (Beecham) and ramrod-tight control (Karajan). Levi delivers a reading that is pin-sharp and deeply chiselled. I suppose some may find this just too affected; too self-consciously shaped. It is in fact an inspirational performance and anyone who picks this CD up on spec will feel rewarded. After all, the tawnily magnificent tone produced by those Cleveland hornists is no common commodity. This is not a mundane Sibelius 2. It stands in all its individuality beside the great Seconds including Ormandy’s Sony version and Barbirolli’s ‘ice and fire’ with the RPO on Chesky.

Even the tired and over-played glories of Finlandia take on an added glamour with Levi and the Clevelanders although I would not prefer this to the imposingly black-toned Horst Stein version with, of all orchestras, the Suisse Romande. Marc Mandel provides a useful scene-setting note.

Strangely this disc has had precious little critical commentary perhaps it is the short-playing time; the only real demerit now that this splendid-sounding disc has dropped to mid-price.

Rob Barnett


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