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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.5 in E flat, op.82 (1914/1915 rev 1916/1919) [31:59]
Symphony No.7 in C, op.105 (1924) [21:18]
En Saga, op.9 (1892/1893 rev 1902) [17:53]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
rec. January 1975 (symphonies); March 1980 (En Saga). ADD
re-issue from Philips 464 740-2 (Symphonies) and Philips 476 2817 (En Saga)
PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC5186177 [71:40] 
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Colin Davis was Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 1984. During that time he made a successful series of recordings which included an impressive Sibelius cycle from which these recording originate and which now appear in remastered sound.
 

Davis understands the architechture of this music, controlling the ebb and flow, and building the climaxes over a long time-span. In these works - even the short 7th Symphony - Sibelius gives his interpreter ample time to do what he has to to make the music speak. These are strong, intelligent performances and it is a pleasure to welome them in especially clear, remastered sound. 

The 5th Symphony is a very fine performance. The first movement is allowed to grow organically, the music slowly metamorphosing from gentleness to breathless rush; the final stretto is particularly well handled. There is one strange thing – at 11:17 the trumpet fanfare is ruined by the worst kind of vibrato, or braying, the kind of thing which was always blamed on brass bands; it is soon passed, but it is a disturbing blemish. The drums at the very end are particularly thrilling. The gentle variations of the middle movement are handled with a very light touch – Davis is perfect here. The finale seems a little rushed yet the tempo works. The build-up to the famous hammer blows which end the work is handled very well, the tension overwhelming until the first chord. Most impressive. This is certainly a better thought out, and executed, performance than the recent CFP reissue of the Symphony by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. 

The 7th Symphony is an even greater achievement. The ghostly foreshadowing of the big climax is well done, subtle and understated, as is the build-up to the first entrance of the great trombone theme. There is a feeling of big things here, the theme coming from the depths, monumental in its simplicity. The many changes of mood and tempo all relate well to one another and the final climax, beautiful in its starkness, is heart-stopping. 

En Saga is a fun piece with which to end, but do you really want something after the 7th Symphony? – especially this performance, a performance of such searching intensity? When will record companies realise that the major work should come last so we can fully appreciate the silence which follows and enjoy the moment of reverie. Having said that, Davis gives a fine reading. I’ve never thought of En Saga as a “deep” piece, surely it’s just a mightily enjoyable romp. That’s how Davis does it – nothing profound here, just a very enjoyable work played for all it is worth. 

On occasion, Davis plays with the tempo and pulls things round in order to make his point but, as he is in total control of what he wants, it never gets in the way of his interpretation and we can simply enjoy the music. This is a disk well worth having for the superb performances offered and the insights which Davis brings to the music.

Bob Briggs


 


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