Twenty years ago DG recorded the young Shlomo Mintz
in a recording that still has the capacity to halt the listener
mid-step. It is not as complete a victory as the 1960s recording
by Oistrakh with Rozhdestvensky in Moscow but then very little is;
not even the much-vaunted Neveu version.
Mintz radiates more character than Mullova and
Chung but seems sometimes to be striving for effect. He is more
interesting than the DG mainstay version by Christian Ferras
with Karajan. He is steadier and less prone to vibrato than
some soloists. I always enjoyed Julian Rachlin’s version as
part of Maazel’s second set of the Sibelius symphonies with
the Pittsburgh orchestra (Sony). The
same goes for Haendel’s with Berglund. However Mintz is aided
by two things. He has a conductor who has an empathetic approach
to Sibelius as we find out in Levine’s recording of the symphony.
The DG team also present him in sturdy, detailed and virile
sound that opens out nicely in the dynamic extremes. Fortunate
the classical explorer who discovers the Sibelius concerto through
this disc. This is red-blooded Sibelius in the spotlight.
The concerto first appeared coupled with the Dvořák
on 419 618-2GH in the days when recordings were issued simultaneously
on LP, cassette and CD.
The Symphony, on the other hand, first appeared
on DG 437 828-2GH. It was not the only Sibelius symphony Levine
recorded. We should not forget his versions of symphonies 4
and 5, again with the BPO, on DG 445 865-2GH. Levine in the
present case delivers red-bloodedly urgent Sibelius. For once
the timings do tell us something. At just over 40 minutes
he is seven minutes faster than Okko Kamu and more than
ten minutes faster than Bernstein in his last VPO recording
- both on DG. The pulse is vehemently and consistently made
to race. Lesser orchestras might crash and burn but not this
one. It’s undeniably impressive and exciting music-making with
Levine consciously or otherwise striving for the Golovanov effect.
I would not however favour this over the Ormandy, Szell, Barbirolli
or the live Beecham on BBC A guilty pleasure then and one to
put on for friends who think they know their Sibelius symphonies.
pulse-racingly red in tooth and claw - impressive performances,