Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 (1901) [44:07]
NWDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. 1956, Hamburg

The recording of his with the NWDR that Schmidt-Isserstedt most liked was the traversal of DvorŠkís Seventh Symphony. Still, he couldnít have been too displeased with this recording of Sibeliusís Second Symphony, which he taped in Hamburg in 1956. It receives the XR treatment from Andrew Rose.

This was originally issued on Parlophone and was superintended by John Culshaw. It preserves a reading of weight and considerable clarity, though itís also a performance that cleaves to one option open to conductors, which is to give expansive treatment to the outer movements. Whilst this acts as a bolstering architectural device, providing columnar solidity to the edifice and refusing to jump fences, it can in less practised hands become merely stodgy, missing the fire and passionate build-up of the finale, downplaying the volatility of the opening movement.

This recording just about skirts that pitfall, but not by much. Itís measured and rigorous, spacious and very slightly objectified in places. It has nobility and great succour too, but itís not exactly exciting, to be frank. I speak as a huge admirer of the conductor. At times he brings a certain spruceness to bear Ė those winds and percussion for instance, though the inner string writing registers adeptly and with considerable clarity. The lower brass and percussion come over well Ė I donít know to what extent XR has righted any balance wrongs because Iíve not heard the LP pressing - and thereís a good, lean string sonority. The winds are especially plangent in the third movement where chiselled string articulation is pleasurable. But the finale is on the broad side, as was the opening. Lyrical and proportionate though it is, it lacks vitality. We do get the composer-sanctioned timpani part (via Koussevitzky).

There are far, far too many recommendable versions of this symphony but among historical performances from around this time, Koussevitzky himself, the earlier totemic Kajanus, Beecham, Barbirolli et al, all offer rather more in the way of Nordic fire and incremental drive.

Jonathan Woolf