Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Sir Alexander Gibson conducts Sibelius
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39 (1899) [34:58]
Karelia Suite, Op. 11 (1893) [14:15]
The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22 No. 2 (1893) [8:12]
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899) [7:39]
Christine Pendrill (cor anglais) (Swan)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson
rec. St John’s Smith Square, London, August 1989. DDD
Previously on Collins Classics
ALTO ALC 1089 [65:26]

Sir Alexander Gibson (1926-1995) was a Sibelius champion. When Sibelius’s stock was still at rock bottom he recorded symphonies 3 and 7 for the Alpha label (later Saga). He worked with CFP and EMI on the symphonies and incidental music. RCA and then Chandos lined up beside him to allow him a cycle of the symphonies with the then SNO and a selection of the tone poems. He seems never to have had access to Kullervo – just before his time.

In the present case we have three Sibelius ‘pops’ with the most easily accessible of his symphonies. Gibson's Sibelius 1 is superbly recorded by Sean Lewis and Mike Clements. It has plenty of vibrancy but no lack of careful and sensitive dynamic gradation and spatial sense. This version is not up there with the mono Collins (Beulah) still less with the excellent Hallé/Barbirolli as part of the EMI complete edition. It is however a strong account and full of memorable insight.

I liked the passive turning away of the violins in the second movement of the Symphony at 2:35. The then ailing Gibson still masterfully held things together. If there is something a bit too suave and ordinary about the start of the final movement this is perhaps a reflection of the strength of the opposition. I hear that Eloquence may be issuing Okko Kamu's 1970s DG analogues of the Finnish RSO in Symphonies No. 1 and 2; the Lemminkainen legends are already out. While Kamu’s No. 2 always struck me as rather bloated the First was outstanding - ditto the Legends. The Kamu will be competition for the Gibson except that Gibson is available in the most resplendent full-fat digital sound.

The Karelia goes with tension and a welcome swing. It bubbles over most acceptably. Gibson's experience as a life-long Sibelian and a veteran of many recordings on Saga, Chandos, RCA and EMI shows through. This is a really good Karelia - romping and lilting. His Swan is excellent and catches the swell of the strings as well as Mravinsky without the high candlepower italicisation of the Morton Gould version I praised recently when reviewing an HDTT reissue coupled with Gibson’s Sibelius 5. His Finlandia is not quite as black-heartedly brazen as the version by Horst Stein on Decca but it is pretty good. It rounds off a Sibelius collection representing the great and good from his catalogue if shying away from regions of blazing genius.

Can I just exhort Alto to put out feelers for the rights to issue Loris Tjeknavorian's RCA recordings of Sibelius 4th and 5th symphonies. While they are at it they should add to their Simonov-Khachaturian CD from the same source Kachaturian's Symphony 1 again under the wonderful Tjeknavorian. There is a whole driven sub-market for LPs so that people can MP3 them and Tjeknavorian is the most likely conductor to benefit from that market. Let's find those original masters please!

Rob Barnett

Plenty of vibrancy but no lack of careful and sensitive dynamic gradation and spatial sense.