Sibelius is one of
the great masters of the orchestra,
and each of his orchestral compositions
is thoroughly representative of his
genius. Ample proof of this generalization
can be found in this attractive Philips
reissue of programme music, beautifully
played by one of the world’s finest
orchestras conducted by an important
Sibelian: Sir Colin Davis.
The programme is thoughtfully
put together to offer the option of
a complete sequence or a track or two;
for that is the nature of the music.
The Philips recordings are more than
twenty years old but they reflect the
high standards of the period and they
do not sound in the least dated. Take
the opening of the first track, for
instance. Pohjola’s Daughter
begins with the dark sounds of lower
strings. The Boston players bring a
dark and powerful presence to the agenda.
If this is an impressive opening, the
full-toned climaxes which emerge as
the saga is expounded are equally impressive,
a special tribute to the Philips engineering
which the later RCA recording Davis
made may match but does not surpass.
If Pohjola’s Daughter
begins impressively, its continuation
is more mixed. The fully scored climaxes
are particularly impressive, but the
changes of tempo seem willful and disruptive
of the flow. The same might be said
also of the first movement of the famous
Karelia Suite, which never gets
going, though the central Intermezzo
is a wonderfully atmospheric interpretation.
The celebrated Valse
Triste is beautifully done, with
close attention to those details of
dynamics that make all the difference
in this masterly score. There is also
a powerful Tapiola, with a keen
sense of line and tempi that feel -
for this piece - absolutely right. This
is a masterly score and the impressive
playing of the Bostonians reminds us
that no sensitive listener should hear
this piece after dark and on their own.
Among this collection,
however, En Saga is the jewel
in the crown. In common with the majority
of conductors, Davis rightly prefers
the revised version of the score, whose
integration and concentration mark it
among Sibelius’s most potent creations.
Again the tempi and phrasing seem unforced
and natural, and the recorded sound
is first rate.