Let me be quite honest with you. I was
looking forward to hearing this disk so I could tell you
that Karajan in 1976 hadnít got a real grip on Sibelius,
unlike his Philharmonia recordings from the 1950s. Oh yes,
I was looking forward to giving this disk a real panning!
eating mouthfuls of humble pie - without custard and cream
- I can admit that I was wrong and tell you that this is
simply one of the very, very best recorded performances of
Sibeliusís 4th Symphony
Iíve ever heard.
It is quite staggering. First of all, you need to turn the
volume right up to get the full feel of the dynamic range
then you are in for a real experience. The first movement,
with its huge brass cries, angular string writing and general
feeling of otherworldliness, is brought fully to life in
a performance of such stature that it is truly horrifying.
There are a couple of seemingly slightly tentative brass
entries, but Karajan builds the tension slowly and deliberately
with hair-raising inevitability. The scherzo which follows
it is light and airy until the tempo is halved and weíre
back in that other place. Karajan plays the slow movement
as if it were one of Brucknerís monumental Adagios, allowing
the music to grow from the simple germ of the flute idea
at the start. The climax, when it comes, is massive and all-embracing Ė didnít
Mahler tell Sibelius that the Symphony had to encompass the
whole world? Thatís how Karajan sees it and it is overwhelming.
The finale, with its gleam of hope in the sound of the glockenspiel,
still seems desperate in its utterance. Karajan keeps a tight
rein on the music and even the slight slowing of tempo, after
the big climax, works as part of his conception. Then we
are left with bleak unison As. No victory, no hard-won battle
this, just a resignation to the inevitable.
Some may find
some of the sound too sumptuous for this most bleak of Sibeliusís
symphonies, but that must not cloud your judgement for this
is a performance of such stature and power that it cannot,
and must not, be ignored.
Might I mention
that the very best recording of this Symphony
Tauno Hannikainen and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra,
which was available here on Russian Melodiya (DO 4794) for
a short time in the 1960s (and now on CD: Bearac BRC-2861
at firstname.lastname@example.org). His is a performance
of elemental power, the feeling of the cold Finnish landscape
filtered through and across the Russian Steppes. We will
never hear another performance like that ever again and it
is an LP well worth searching out and good luck in your search.
If you manage to find a copy you will not be disappointed.
Until you can get your hands on that disc get this and be
amazed at, and admire, the sheer breadth of Karajanís vision.
of the 5th Symphony
is almost equally fine,
but it lacks the searing vision which fills the performance
of the 4th Symphony
. But it is good Ė the
opening section of the tripartite first movement hits exactly
the right tempo and feel. It moves gently forwards, the discussion
between the woodwinds is lovely, the second section, with
tremolando strings accompanying distant bassoon is suitably
mysterious and the build up to the transition to the Allegro
is skilfully handled. The only flaw in the whole movement
is at the very end where an over-abundance of drums spoils
the overall musical effect. The slow movement is well paced
and the gentle variations, woodwind led, are delightful.
The finale, with its rushing strings and second subject suggestive
of a flock of birds flying overhead, is magnificent but the
slow build up to the final peroration is slightly too fast
and the music is robbed of some of its gravitas. The final
hammer blows really are too fast and not sufficiently widely
spaced to make their full effect. Barbirolli, in his excellent
recording with the Halle (EMI CMS 5672992 Ė see
), is much to be preferred here.
such a magnificent performance of the 4th Symphony
and despite my slight reservations concerning the 5th Symphony
this is an outstanding bargain and should be on every record