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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Sibelius Edition - Volume 12: Symphonies
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä (CDs 1-4), Jaakko Kuusisto (CD 5)
rec 1996-1997, Sibelius Hall, Lahti (CDs 1-4), Church of the Cross (Ristinkirkko), Lahti, Finland, September 2010
5 CDs for the price of 3
All tracks on Disc 5 (see list at end of review) are world première recordings
BIS-CD-1933-35 [5 CDs: 80:44 + 71:00 + 67:32 + 50:26 + 49:32]

Experience Classicsonline

CD 1 [80:44]
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39 (1898–99, rev. 1900) [35:04]
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.43 (1901–02) [44:44]
CD 2 [71:00]
Symphony No.3 in C major, Op.52 (1904–07) [30:32]
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63 (1909–11) [39:27]
CD 3 [67:32]
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op.82 – original 1915 version [35:16]
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op.82 – final 1919 version [31:20]
CD 4 [50:26]
Symphony No.6 (in D minor), Op.104 (1922–23) [26:45]
Symphony No.7 in C major, Op.105 (1923–24) [22:44]
CD 5 [49:32]
Fragments and Preliminary Versions of movements from Symphonies.1, 2, 3, 4, 7
After this there’s one more volume – a miscellany and mopping up - and Bis’s monumental Sibelius Edition will be home and dry. I fully expect all thirteen volumes will be reissued in a luxury edition housed in a wooden cabinet – speculation, I hasten to add.
The present box proffers a for the most part well known quantity: the Vänskä cycle complete with the alternative version of the Fifth Symphony. It was first issued in 2001 as BIS CD-1286-1288 and then as part of the Bis Erssential Sibelius box (review). You will not find Kullervo – that’s in Volume 3. Fascinating though CD 5 is, I wonder how often the disc will be played. With its Anhang of approaching fifty minutes of discarded alternative movements and episodes this box forms the equivalent of a Variorum volume of poetry.
The Lahti Sibelius cycle is healthy and extremely well recorded. The sense of front to back perspective and of quiet details in the foreground registering despite fff activity above is remarkable. It’s a tribute to the engineering acuity and artistic judgement of Ingo Petry, Robert Suff, Jeffrey Ginn and Jens Braun.
The First Symphony bristles with detail and Vänskä drives it along with petulant aggression. It lacks the tone-dazzle of Barbirolli's version (EMI Classics) but the colour achieved is natural, less saturated than Barbirolli. The Fourth is played as an intimate concerto for orchestra bringing out roots in works such as Rakastava and the lighter theatre music. It is a fine reading and the flute, viola and cello voices reach out to the listener in conspiratorial eloquence. The Second Symphony has had many incandescent performances: Barbirolli on Chesky (white hot), Beecham in concert at the Colston Hall on BBC Legends (incandescent) and the unsubtle but visceral approach from Rozhdestvensky and the USSRSO (Melodiya and Venezia) in his late 1960s cycle. The Third has Mozartean intimacy as well as bristling urgency. Tautness and perfection of balance and scale is clearly prized by Vänskä making this one of the strongest recordings in the set. The luminous Sixth has buoyant poise and great delight in instrumental dialogue. It carries all before it. With the Seventh I doubted at first that the conductor had found the aural equivalent of the mot juste. Then I got to 5.01 when Vänskä's strategy is revealed – a perfectly paced swell and rise. My reference in this work remains the Melodiya Mravinsky Leningrad Moscow recording (BMG-Melodiya) but this version is high in the stakes. All Sibelians must hear this.
The set is sui generis in that it gives both versions of the Fifth Symphony. This is part of the legacy of integrity and trust between the Sibelius family and BIS. Rather like the special privilege granted Chandos and Hickox to record the RVW London Symphony in one of the original versions (review) so BIS have the key to much that is fabled and recondite. They have, for example, recorded both versions of the Violin Concerto (review) as well as variants of the tone poems (review; review).
It is fascinating to hear the Fifth in its four movement 1915 issue playing 35.16 against the 3 movement 31.20 final version of 1919. After so many years of hearing the Fifth in the tighter 3 movement structure it is impossible to make a reliable snap appraisal. All we can do is celebrate the chance to hear what amounts to a new Sibelius work and encourage you to hear it for the small astonishments and joyous turns of phrase and orchestration: familiarity jolted by surprise. The level of dissonance in the original version can startle - be warned. It is a must for Sibelians everywhere. Vänskä is at the other pole from the stolidity of Colin Davis in his 'classic' Boston Philips recording. Vänskä knows his way to the elusive realm between gestural defiance and grateful descant. His emphatic way with the payoff hammer-blows at the end of the familiar version of the Fifth is just one example of a man who has rethought and reinvented the symphony finding a way back through traditions and layers of convention.
Much of the attention is bound to focus on the fifth disc. It comprises three complete discarded alternative movements: 1 (III), 3 (II) and 4 (II). As well as passages between 1:03 and 4:55 from symphonies 1-4 and 7. Kuusisto draws real totally committed performances from these discards, extracts and examples of what was and was not to be. Such is the life of the music-making that dedicated or even mildly interested Sibelians can listen with pleasure right through the disc. There’s delight in being brought up short by those disorientating departures and pleasing turnings. They may ultimately have been rejects but in some cases they did feature in what was at first heard in the concert hall sometimes under Sibelius’s baton..
The First Symphony snippets from the first and second movements differ only slightly from what we now know as the norm. Even so those strange hesitations are intriguing.
The carmine heroism of the Second Symphony is represented by two extracts the first of which from I is relaxed and not radically different from the finalised version. There’s almost five minutes of an alternate of part of the second movement which is looser in the joints than the final one. Still, in its tenderness, it is well worth getting to know. The bugle-evocative trumpet typifies the languor encountered here.
The Third Symphony has two alternative starts. The first is in part more romantic than the final published edition; closer to its predecessor symphony. The second is yet more romantically florid and rather out of character with the rest of the work – part Second Symphony-part theatre music. The discarded preliminary second movement appears in toto. It too is solicitously gentle but with, at times, a greater density of ear-tickling vertical activity. Take the quasi-Tchaikovskian woodwind sighs from 6:30 onwards - delightful even in isolation. Like everything else in this recording is an exemplar of the recording engineer’s art.
The Fourth Symphony is represented by the first version of the second movement as conducted by Sibelius at the Helsinki University Hall on 3 April 1911. Everything is fined down and while much is familiar from the version we know there are some hesitations that are unfamiliar. The start of the finale omits the cello and violin solos.
There are two alternative endings for the Seventh Symphony. The first relaxes into dreamier gleaming climes that become almost tentative and unconfident – emotion recollected in tranquillity rather than heroic eruption. The second has a more symphonic mien with the grand emotional drive taut and fully engaged throughout an extended string episode. The gruff outbursts work very well and are reminiscent of the Odysseyan impacts that close the Fifth Symphony. Well worth experiencing.
In the Sibelius symphony stakes Vänskä demonstrates an imaginatively healthy approach.

Rob Barnett


The Bis Sibelius Edition reviewed on MusicWeb International
Vols. 1-5
Vol. 6
Vol. 7
Vol. 8
Vol. 9
Vol. 10
Vol. 11.
Themed review page including reviews of single CDs
The Sibelius Edition - Volume 12 (Symphonies)


Detailed track-listing for CD 5:-
from Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39 (Manuscript / Breitkopf & Härtel JSW)
I. First movement: bars 1–40 1:55
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Andante – Allegro Eeva Mäenluoma clarinet
II. Second movement: bars 1–56 2:27
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Andante (ma non troppo lento)
III. Scherzo (complete) 6:01
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Allegro moderato – Un poco più lento – Poco stringendo al Tempo primo
IV. Finale (Quasi una Fantasia): 35 bars starting at 2:09
[equivalent of 4 before in published score]
from manuscript HUL 0123 – probably pages extracted from original 1899 score
[Andante (ma non troppo)]
IV. Finale (Quasi una Fantasia): ?nal 54 bars (from 2 before ) 3:19
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Andante (ma non troppo)
from Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (Manuscript / Breitkopf & Härtel JSW)
I. First movement: bars 1–54 1:48
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Allegretto moderato
II. Second movement: 62 bars starting at 4:55
from the manuscript in the Sibelius Museum, Turku
Molto largamente – Andante sostenuto
from Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op. 52 (Manuscript / Lienau / Breitkopf & Härtel JSW)
I. First movement: bars 1–32 1:08
from manuscript HUL 0232 (I)
[no tempo marking]
I. First movement: bars 1–44 1:29
from manuscript HUL 0232 (II)
[no tempo marking]
II. Second movement (complete) 9:47
from manuscript HUL 0230
Andantino con moto
from Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63 (Manuscript / Breitkopf & Härtel)
II. Second movement (complete) 4:25
from manuscript HUL 0304
Allegro molto vivace – Doppio più lento
IV. Finale: bars 1–59 1:03
from manuscript HUL 0304
from Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105 (Manuscript / Wilhelm Hansen / Breitkopf & Härtel JSW)
First alternative ending, starting at 3:40
from manuscript HUL 0354
[Adagio] – Largamente molto – Poco pressante – Adagio molto
Second alternative ending, starting at 3:24
from manuscript HUL 0353
[Adagio] – Largamente molto






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