Sumptuous sound for
a sumptuous performance of the Legends.
This recording was
made during that brief window in time when the Philadelphia
were contracted to EMI and were forced to use the Old Met. In
fact John Willan and John Kurlander did a slap-up job. The sound
is as lavish as the orchestra. And the good memories you may
have of the LP are in no way diluted. Whether it is the silvery
gleam of the violins in the Swan or the spreading yet
tight bass, the rasping brass and wide soundstage, they're all
there uncompromised by the digital transfer. Of course this
is not the first time this has appeared on CD. There was an
identically coupled Studio reissue in the early 1990s. While
The Swan of Tuonela might lack the breaking-strain tautness
and electricity of the Mravinsky/Leningrad version this is a
fine version in anyone’s book. Overall this recording of the
suite ranks high. It sounds magnificent and the interpretative
values are to match. Ormandy does not let up once and of course
he knew the work so well having recorded it with the same orchestra
in mono circa 1954 - reissued on Haydn House. If anything that
Haydn House recording for CBS was even finer; even faster. After
his two-step with EMI Ormandy went on during his final phase
with RCA to record quite a few of the Sibelius symphonies.
We wait and wait for those to be reissued in the BMG-Sony mainstream
rather than via Japanese transfers. His CBS Sony disc of the
Second and Seventh symphonies is well worth getting - principally
for a magnificent Seventh which can be spoken of in the same
breath as Mravinsky's. The Lemminkainen suite has been
fortunate over the years. There's an interesting Tauno Hanninkainen
1950s reading on a mono Melodiya LP (via Bearac reissues). I
always found the very accessible Jensen DRSO recording rather
grey and unmagical - down to Eclipse processing I wonder - but
I await hearing Cyrus Meher-Homji's Decca Eloquence reisue with
great interest. Berglund never recorded the whole suite (why?)
though he has recorded both the Swan and the Homecoming for
EMI both with Bournemouth and, I think, the Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchesta. It was last year I heard him do a very languorous
Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari in Brighton with
the LPO. He was then very frail and had to be helped gingerly
into his conducting seat. It was however a memorable performance
leaning on the expansive rather than the impulsive. Mikko Frank
on Ondine is good. Järvi (father or son, Bis or Virgin Classics)
are not vitally engaging - unusually so. Vänskä (Bis) is excellent
yet Colin Davis is unengaging - surprising given his two rather
fine but different Kullervos (RCA and LSO Live).
Gibson's version on Chandos is worth hearing. For me the best
performance I ever heard came from the BBC Training Orchestra
(yes, that long ago) conducted I think by Meredith Davies -
a broadcast from circa 1971 . Must have been a trick of microphone
placement - possibly miscalculated - that the woodwind sang
out with such unforced eloquence and immediacy at the expense
of other parts of the orchestra. No way will we ever hear that
tape again and my own is long gone. In the meantime my top tips
would be for this stunning version - which has nothing of American
soullessness - in case you were inclined to worry. Also I would
suggest the Vänskä version for a completely up to date recording
and an extremely good performance.
Tapiola is down to Berglund and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
It's urgently done with a very clear sense of architecture.
I think I have heard more terrifying storms but this is pretty
impressive anyway. The main sell here is the Lemminkainen
four tone poems but this Tapiola is by no means negligible.
Good to be reminded
in such a forceful way of the golden late afternoon of Ormandy
and the Philadelphia's conjoined career. Outstanding Sibelius
and outstanding analogue technology.