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(as CD or FLAC or mp3 download)

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 4 [31:08]
Symphony No. 5 [28:43]
The Swan of Tuonela [9:42]
Finlandia [8:08]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 28 November 1954 (4), 19 December 1954 (5), 2 April 1950. Symphonies from UK LP Philips ABL3084. other items from US LP Columbia ML2158. mono. ADD
PRISTINE XR PASC 177 [77:41]
Experience Classicsonline

Ormandy is a force to be reckoned with in Sibelius as he is in Brahms, Rachmaninov and Respighi. While his late 1970s incomplete cycle of the symphonies for RCA was dished his Lemminkainen Legends for EMI and his speckle of symphony recordings of the 1960s (Sony-CBS) were major entrants. Sadly they buried from sight three wonderful Sibelius LPs of the mono 1950s. This Pristine revival resurrects them and makes them available more widely in a way that the previous Haydn House and Lost in the Vaults reissues never could.

We hear a singingly expressive performance of the Fourth Symphony. Here is a great Sibelian who holds the listener's attention on a taut leash. That said there is more 'give' in mature Ormandy than there is in Cantelli whose emotionally hectic Brahms Third I heard recently. This is somehow healthy mens sana Sibelius and it is most naturally recorded, sounding quite wonderful despite the passage of the years. In both symphonies one senses an emulsive evolutionary effect which avoids sounding treacly. This is built magnificence that continues to build in front of you. Muscular propulsion is buttressed by dynamic contrast. One momentary audio lapse is a slightly abrasive edge at 2:13 in a climactic statement in last movement of No. 5. Ormandy keeps the pressure buzzingly close to breaking-strain yet has time for expressive originality - for example in the curl and flourish of individual woodwind voices. The unassertive glow of Ormandy's Swan contrasts with another and magnificently tense Swan I heard recently from an unexpected source. It was from Morton Gould 'and his Orchestra' on a High Definition Tape Transfer CD. The Ormandy Swan has all the healthy Sibelian virtues mentioned above as does the Finlandia.

I do hope that Andrew Rose will go on to make transfers of Ormandy's mono Lemminkainen Legends and tone poems including a wonderful Pohjola's Daughter.

It's time now that we reassessed Ormandy's late 1970s RCA recordings of the symphonies even if they never got as far as completing that cycle with 3 and 6. [see footnote]

The generous timing of this PASC issue should not pass without mention either.

Rob Barnett


As something of a devotee of Eugene Ormandy, let me tell you that Rob Barnett's review mentions the absence of Sibelius' 3rd and 6th Symphonies as a kind of omission, as though he hadn't gotten to recording them. Years ago, in an interview with Ormandy that I read, he stated that he did not "understand" these two symphonies and had deliberately not played and/or recorded them. The statement was in print, online, but I don't remember where — as it was a very long time ago.

Sheldon Lichter



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