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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphonies 1-4

CD 1 [75:29]
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39 (1898) [34:35]
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.43 (1901) [40:44]
CD 2 [56:43]
Symphony No.3 in C major, Op.52 (1904) [24:43]
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63 (1911) [31:51]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins
rec. Kingsway Hall, London: No. 1 - February 1952; No. 2 - May 1953; No. 3 - May 1954; No. 4 - February 1954. Mono. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 9490 [75:29 + 56:43]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphonies 5-7

CD 1 [78:09]
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op.82 (1914-15) [29:40]
Symphony No.6 in D minor, Op.104 (1923) [28:29]
Symphony No.7 in C major, Op.105 (1924) [19:15]
CD 2 [62:47]
Pohjola’s Daughter, Op.49 [12:41]
Nightride and Sunrise, Op.55 [14:19]
Pelléas et Mélisande, Op.46 [13:51]
Karelia Overture, Op.10 [6:56]
Karelia Suite, Op.11 [14:29]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins; Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen (Karelia Suite)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London: No. 5 - January 1955; No. 6 - June 1955; No. 7 - February 1954; Karelia Overture; Pohjola's Daughter - May 1954; Pelléas et Mélisande (Mélisande; Pastorale; At the spinning wheel; Intermezzo; Death of Mélisande) - February 1954; Nightride and Sunrise - June 1955. Mono. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 9493 [78:09 + 62:47]
Experience Classicsonline

Reviews of the Collins Sibelius cycle on Beulah: Patrick C Waller; Rob Barnett

These two Decca Eloquence sets are available separately. At their heart is a cycle of recordings made by Decca in London during the period 1952-55. They will be known to many collectors as a result of their reissue first on Decca Eclipse LPs in the 1970s and before that on Decca Ace of Clubs. More relevantly these days it is likely to be known through the authorised set on Beulah 1-4PD8 – re-mastered in 1994. These tapes have been freshly mastered for this project but time has in a few places taken its toll.

Collins’ was the first domestically available collection of the Sibelius symphonies. Victor Olof - who also enjoyed a fruitful recording relationship with Campoli – was the progenitor. He had the prescience to select Collins (1893-1963) who had been making a conducting and film music career for himself in California. Against this background the choice of an unfashionable orchestra and an unknown conductor might have seemed rash. In fact the choice turned out to be extremely perceptive - all the more so with some fine recordings in Decca’s vaunted FFRR sound.

The First Symphony is passionately done with string solos of restrained sweetness (4.38 in I) and bass drum thuds (7:13; I) which impress. Coal-black brass salvoes and moments of monumental drama - the string cascade 2:57, IV - bedeck this classic recording. The Lemminkainen-like 'stuttering' at 6:06 (IV) is notable. It also reminds the listener of Kullervo. What a pity that Collins/Decca never recorded that work. Listen at high volume and you will hear throughout a distant puttering sound. Nothing to be concerned about; simply be aware. I compared the Beulah equivalent and it’s absent from that disc. It’s a small demerit in a performance as splenetically engaged (IV, 2:59) as this. Certainly to be counted in the distinguished company of the versions by Barbirolli/Hallé (EMI, only as part of a Sibelius box) and Stokowski/National Phil (Desmar then Sony).

The Second Symphony is interpreted and recorded in a way that catches its earthy mystery as well as its exhilaration. Not the equal of Barbirolli's RPO (Reader's Digest, then Chesky) stereo recording it still develops considerable whip-crack excitement. Listen to the first few minutes of the third movement and stop listening if you can. The gales in this work reach across the years to Sibelius's final 'symphony' Tapiola. There are so many highlights but listen particularly to the midnight satin strings at 9.20 (III). On the down-side I wondered about the unanimity of the trombones in the long finale. The work has many glories and bids high to be one of the enduring treasures in the annals of recorded sound. No sign of that puttering sound in this recording.

In the clean-limbed Third Symphony Collins puts across the controlled icy fever of the string writing. The work's almost classical restraint contrasts with the bearing of its two predecessors. Some of the edges are softened as at 2.30 (I) in the strings. However in the finale the burred rolling horns - completely uncompromised by the passage of time - register fervently in a rapid furious wave.

The Fourth Symphony is suitably taciturn and grim but the recording could have done with more spotlighting of the solos. The cello in the first and last movements seems recessed though I am sure the balance is quite naturalistic; not necessarily the reason you buy recordings. Nevertheless the oboe in the second movement enjoys some winning prominence in the aural landscape. Things do not go so flowingly in the final movement though the sound is again wonderful; listen to the bells at 00.25 and 1:43.

The Fifth Symphony is an epic work, not in duration - less than 30 minutes in Collins' hands - but in spirit. A lively muscularity blends the lighter Sibelius peaking through the thickets with threatening and unpredictable elemental forces. Collins does not strive to darken this symphony but very little of its natural power escapes his gimlet eyes. The ticking strings accompanying the bell-theme on the woodwind (4.40) in the finale are simply glorious and the sound quality is out of Ken Wilkinson's top-drawer. The final hammer-chords are securely and satisfyingly captured although there is a trace of print-through.

The Sixth Symphony is very cleanly recorded and indomitably paced but did I notice concentration and tension slackening in first movement? Doubts are soon swept away. The woodwind effervesce vivaciously throughout and are pleasingly and precisely accented in the finale. For those who find symphonies 1 and 2 too overtly romantic try 3 and 6. The finale calls irresistibly across northern meadows in twilight and perpetual anticipation. That inwardly-lit yet weighty string tone is as satin is to tweed.

The Seventh Symphony is a touch too civilised and ponderous though still conveying rough-hewn qualities. Its deliberation can be compared with the 1953 Helsinki concert performance by Stokowski on Guild. Though taut this version is not the equal of the 1960s stereo accounts by Mravinsky on Melodiya or Ormandy on Sony-CBS. Be warned: time has dealt the tapes a certain rawness which can be heard in the fff passages towards the end (16:00-17:30).

The sombre and glowing Pohjola's Daughter provides bardic beauty conjured from bleak shadows and a rock-steady beat. The work is effectively a mini-symphony. Any film music fan exploring classical music would do well to listen to this before any of the Sibelius symphonies. It is one of the most imaginative masterpieces of 20th century orchestral music.

Nightride and Sunrise is all you might wish for with many captivating features including the ear-tickling clatter of percussion, the metallic clash of iron-shod hooves (00.21) and a fascinating ultra-fast beat. The woodwind interventions are explosive. The sunrise looks forward to Nielsen's own Mediterranean dawn: the Helios overture of six years later. Strange to recall that the long-sustained underpinning rhythm was suggested by the rail-clatter of a train journey rather than anything even vaguely equestrian.

There are five excerpts from the salon-like Pelléas and Mélisande. The flickering strings sound really splendid in The Spinning Wheel movement but the first movement is rather dull-sounding.

The Karelia Overture is the last Collins-LSO piece. It is given a romanticised treatment abuzz with anticipation then unleashed at a fast tempo.

As a substantial make-weight Eloquence have added Thomas Jensen’s DRSO Karelia Suite and it is very good indeed. Just as apparent as in Jensen’s Lemminkainen Legends with the same orchestra the conductor is prone to furious speed at the slightest encouragement. He does however resist temptation in favour of a very agreeable boister and buoyancy in the Alla Marcia.

All the Collins sessions took place in the fabulous acoustic of the Kingsway Hall which was demolished in 1999. What a pity that experimental stereo tapes were not made in parallel with the mono ones!

The notes are by Raymond Tuttle. They are generous in their coverage and typically well written. I was pleased to see that the profile of the conductor avoids the error now to be found in Grove where the author of the article there claims that Collins recorded Bantock. In fact that was Walter Collins not Anthony.

Congratulations to Eloquence on their choice of this particular type of single-width double jewel-case. These are the last word in simplicity with the recessed side, hinged left, carrying disc 2 falling open as required with a slight shake.

This remains classic Sibelius tellingly put across in pioneering mono sound which only occasionally shows its age. A must-get for Sibelius enthusiasts and collectors everywhere.

Rob Barnett


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