The Pristine label has one of the most intriguing arrays of historic recordings. Andrew Rose adds to the attraction by regularly striking out in surprising repertoire directions. He also does work for other labels. An example is his recent Warlock set for The Divine Art
. These Sibelius discs continue a line established by his accomplished reissue of the Ormandy monos of symphonies 4 and 5 on PASC177.
PASC 204 gives us a good conspectus of Sibelius on 78 beyond the confines of the Sibelius Society shellac volumes. Its coverage is restricted to the smaller-scale works available on 78s at least to the well-heeled UK enthusiast in the 1930s and early 1940s. Kajanus conducts the Royal Philharmonic Society orchestra in 1930 in two movements from Karelia
letting us hear his sturdy no-nonsense readings through a bristle of shellac surface. Heward’s Birmingham Rakastava
catches all the elusive razory magic hemmed in between The Tempest
and the Humoresques
. These are surprisingly taut and well judged recordings. Do sample The Road to the Beloved
movement: you will be impressed for sure. Heward was a great loss to Sibelians everywhere and the point is further pressed home with a very impressive Elegie
from King Christian II
. Ormandy’s 1940 Swan
gleams with powerhouse brightness which cannot help but impress although I am still recommending Morton Gould’s extraordinary 1960s recording recently reissued by HTT in glowing sound as well as Mravinsky’s Moscow live version. The Beecham 1935 Festivo
with the LPO is a fine example of Sibelius’s lighter fancy unleashed – complete with Carmen
castanets and a Hispanic Chabrier wink. Kajanus’s four movement suite from Belshazzar’s Feast
has its unsettling parallels with Nielsen’s later Aladdin
music. In the Oriental Procession
one has the sense of being carried forward on a heavy-duty flying carpet. The oppressive stride of the Procession
relents for the enchanted slow-tolling Solitude
and the unearthly shimmer of Night Music
. Such buzzing tension as may have built across the three previous movements is released by the chirrup and chatter of Khadra’s Dance
. It is surprising that Beecham did not fasten on this last piece as one of his ‘lollipops’. Kajanus here conducts the LSO in 1932. We next flit across the Atlantic again – this time to Boston and Koussevitsky for The Maidens with Roses
. Koussevitsky is a renowned Sibelian yet for me this version seems ponderous. I remember being similarly disappointed with his way with Sibelius 2 and 5
. After the orchestral bon-bons come four chamber pieces. The two movements from Danses Champêtres
are sweetly and then elvishly addressed by the slender tones of Telmanyi. The op. 78 Romance
bids well into Kreisler territory with a nostalgic backward glance at Sibelius’s ambitions as a solo violinist. Louis Jensen’s bleak Malinconia
for cello and piano agains looks to violinistic examples and the Violin Concerto. These last four chamber tracks sound very fine indeed and Werschenskaya’s piano registers astonishingly well given the age of the recording.
Pristine work closer to the cliff-edge of copyright lapse for the mono Ormandy disc. Here they revive a Sibelius Columbia mono LP from the mid-1950s (ML-5249). These readings were not completely unknown to determined CD-based Sibelians; I heard them in a private transfer some years ago. The very fine transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn bring devastatingly home the Philadelphia’s virtuoso excellence in the service of Sibelius’s untamable imagination. They give us a really heart-pulsing En Saga
. It is so fast that once I caught myself regretting that the woodwind figures were not allowed to unfold at a less hurried rate. It is sometimes as if Ormandy was looking to the example of that Soviet ‘speed merchant’ Nikolai Golovanov who often dealt in adrenaline and flames. Even so at 11:12 Ormandy and his Fabulous Philadelphian wind principals catch the still heart of the music and then intoxicatingly light the blue touchpaper at 11:46. The string figures swirl and volplane like a Sabrejet of that era and the horns call out with emphatic urgency. As the climax passes the shudder and rictus of the strings at 13:30 is gloriously done. The analogue hush adds to the effect. If you fast-forward to my stereo reference version of En Saga
with Horst Stein and an orchestra often denigrated, the Suisse Romande, you will find similar intensity. Stein who must have drilled the OSR to a sharpened point allows a little more oxygen in the bloodstream and slightly more spacious tempo. Van Beinum’s En Saga
is well worth hearing too – Hall of Fame stuff – it’s on Eloquence
. In similar fiery vein is Furtwängler’s 1940s Berlin
version even if he does take a full 5 minutes longer. Stein and his Decca engineers also provide a masterly Pohjola’s Daughter
with comparable virtues. Ormandy presses forward but the pacing and tension is just superbly weighed and his predilection for the furies can be felt in the evenly whipped string whirlwinds that provide an ostinato at 6:55 and later. Magical emphasis is given to the harp. In Oceanides
the accelerator is depressed too far. Ormandy dispatches it in 8:24 which feels at least a minute too fast. If you like your Oceanides
on a jet-ski then this may be for you; not me. It’s as striking as Paavo Järvi’s Nightride
on Virgin Classics
is taken at a more evolutionary tempo. It is more pensive though it is, as expected, flammable and inflamed for the great storm that howls the pine trees double at 15:03. Again I must point you to Van Beinum and that Eloquence
set if you want to hear one of the world’s greatest ever Tapiola
s; this is not far behind. Van Beinum shaves 5 seconds off Ormandy’s timing.
We must hope that Pristine will also revive Ormandy’s mono Lemminkainen Legends
from another 1950s Columbia.
As for the Alfvén it gets a lunging and plunging sparkling-eyed performance; the best I have ever heard. There’s no hesitation here. It’s played up a storm. I have found this piece queasy and unengaging in the past but this makes it something very special indeed. I am reminded of the transformational way Paavo Rautio had with the Madetoja’s Second Symphony and Karel Sejna had with the Fibich Third Symphony. I hope Alfvén was able to hear this recording and that I am not going to be told by one of the cognoscenti that Alfvén hated it! If he did then I dissent.
The liner-notes drawn largely from Wikipedia are on the back of the insert with a note on the magical and meticulous pitch restoration work Mark Obert-Thorn had to do so that we can hear the Alfvén properly for the first time. I wonder how many expatriate Swedes familiarised themselves with this work from concert performances of the piece by Ormandy.