Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Popular Sibelius
Finlandia, op.26 (1900) [8:02]
Karelia Suite Op.11 (1893) - Intermezzo [4:04]; Ballade [8:14]; Alla Marcia [4:50]
Swan of Tuonela Op.22 No.3 (1893) [8:25]
En Saga, Op. 9 (1892, rev. 1902) [18:00]
Romance in C major Op.42 (1904) [6:03]
Tapiola Op.112 [18:04]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Collins
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum
rec. September and December 1957, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London except December 1952, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam (Tapiola)
BEULAH 6PD8 [75:42]

As a pendant to his 1952-55 symphonic cycle - and smaller pieces - with the LSO, Anthony Collins set down these recordings in 1957 with Beecham’s RPO. In the onrush to measure those earlier recordings against others, and in the nitpicky critical maelstrom, these later traversals will perhaps inevitably be overlooked. They were available on Beulah 5PD8 a good long while ago but have been re-released by the same label with the addition of an interloper, van Beinum’s 1952 Tapiola.

For these lighter works Collins certainly had the advantage of a very much better orchestra than for the symphonies, and one strongly and richly versed in Sibelian lore by this date. His Finlandia is snarly and powerful. The brass is fine, the strings a little compromised by the 1950s sonics, and the percussion especially so; the cymbals are rather puny. But Collins’ architectural instincts are true and the ascent to the climax is astutely gauged. It’s followed by a delightfully dispatched Karelia Suite which is played with piquant charm but avoids unctuous pointing. The rhythmic bases of the three movements are robustly attended to but the ex-viola player knows how to maximise string sonority effectively. The Romance is a watery little effusion.

Collins has the advantage of Leonard Brain’s cor anglais playing in the Swan of Tuonela in which the grave cantilena is memorably etched. Certainly there are some glassy sounding strings, a product of 50 year old sonics, but the direction of the music making is unproblematically fine. En Saga is similarly first class. Its episodes are contrasted and charted securely, the brass and wind choir contributions adding materially to the success of the reading. The passionate crest and relapses of the music are tangible, and the descent into near inaudibility is palpable.

Collins certainly had this music under his belt. Clearly this is a niche purchase for those interested in his historical work with the composer’s music, but anyone interested in that symphonic cycle would be advised to enlist this disc as ancillary evidence. The disc actually ends with that Amsterdam performance of Tapiola in which van Beinum delivers a performance of the most compelling intensity. It’s impossible not to be transported by the riven power of his direction and by the orchestra’s surging playing.

It ends a disc of contrasting moods and reflections - from the elemental and brooding to the wistful and light. Interpretative decisions are from the top drawer from both conductors.

Jonathan Woolf