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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1903) [31:37]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43 (1901) [40:18]
Shlomo Mintz (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/James Levine
rec. Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin, June 1986 (concerto); Berlin Schauspielhaus, Grosser Konzertsaal, October 1991 (symphony). DDD


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 Rachlinís version as part of Maazelís second set of the Sibelius symphonies with the Pittsburgh orchestra (Sony). The same goes for Haendelís 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 Levineís 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 DvořŠk 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. Itís 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.

Sibelius pulse-racingly red in tooth and claw - impressive performances, golden recordings.

Rob Barnett







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