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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
CD 1 [59:16]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 [42:31]
Tapiola, Op. 112 [16:23]
CD 2 [55:30]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 4 in A minor. Op. 63 [35:37]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 * [19:33]
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Ernest Ansermet (Rachmaninov)
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, October 1963 (Symphony No. 2), November 1963 (Symphony No. 4, Tapiola); La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France, September 1954 (Rachmaninov). * MONO. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0044 [59:16 + 55:30]
Experience Classicsonline


With a warhorse like Sibelius’s Second Symphony a new recording struggles to make an impact. We can be sure of classic accounts of which Beecham's superheated RFH live affair from the 1950s ranks high. So does Barbirolli's volcanic 1960s effort with the RPO on Chesky and latterly from Testament. This one from Ansermet is in the upper phalanx. It is recorded with gasping vividness which is typical of vintage Decca. The work’s extensive pizzicato undergrowth is rendered with ear-tickling impact. Woodwind, sometimes reedy, reach out and touch the listener. In the finale there's no mistaking the coursing adrenaline. Ansermet keeps pressing forward. OK so there is hint of rawness in the sound but it is not out of place and is only to be expected from a recording that has chalked up more than four decades.  Tapiola is comparably urgent and is grippingly recorded although in Paris. It is not quite up there with Van Beinum - also on Eloquence - but certainly it is deeply impressive. This is no sleepy Tapiola. Ansermet's Sibelius Fourth Symphony has already been praised in several quarters  and rightly so. Ansermet holds the tension of this work on the tautest reins throughout. The admonitory brass are steely black and agreeably coarse of tone. The tubular bells resound with clarity. Special attention is paid to articulation and dynamic and although I have heard more impetuous string solos in the finale this is a very strongly shaped account. The strength of these Sibelius recordings is all the more to be wondered at given that the sessions took place during the global winter that suffocated Sibelius's music within the decade after his death in 1957.

All these recordings are analogue but the Rachmaninov Isle of the Dead is from ten years before the Sibelius sessions. The silky steel of the violins at 4:48 is evidence of this as is the higher hiss level - hardly noticeable at all in the Sibelius tracks. This work too is pressed forward at an unaccustomed pace - if still fitting and not rushed. The recording is atmospheric and captures the groaning ominous brass with something more intense than fidelity.

Surprisingly good Sibelius - in fact not to be missed by dedicated Sibelians. The Rachmaninov benefits from something close to impatience. If you have ever been irritated by the piece this might well be for you. Urgent it may be but Ansermet does the piece no harm at all and it emerges the stronger for having been summonsed from the depths with such impetuosity and even anger. It is to Ansermet's credit that he draws playing of such fervour from the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.

Cyrus Meher-Homji knows how to pick them!


Rob Barnett




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