Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 (1901) [43:04]
Symphony No. 5 in E Flat Major Op. 82 (1914) [29:05]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Mackerras (2); Ole Schmidt (5)
rec. CTS Studios, London, 1994 (2); 1996 (5). DDD.
ALTO ALC 1189 [72:21]
Two friends from the 1990s re-emerge arm-in-arm. They’re musically and technically outstanding companions.
Mackerras’s often urgently-charged Sibelius 2 with the RPO is a rung down from the full-on pyrotechnics of Barbirolli (RPO on Chesky; not the EMI or Dutton alternative recordings) or the eruptive quality of the uproariously live Beecham (BBC Legends) or the regal and imaginative reach of the under-rated Ormandy (Sony). Even so this is music-making that ripples with vitality and tenderness. This can be heard throughout but notably in the tensely confided second movement. The Vivacissimo and Finale movements are most craftily balanced so as to save the full blast for the surging climactic paragraphs. An urgently adroit performance from the RPO with a good sense of theatrical narrative is coupled with an outstanding partnership of music-making and audio technology. The captivating way that figuration, often subsumed elsewhere, emerges is one of the less obvious but still rewarding pleasures of this recording; try the gently registered note-cells at 2:50 in the finale.
Ole Schmidt in Sibelius 5 draws something monumental and indomitable from the RPO. This does not mean slow. As for the sound it is once again splendid. It is as if a pane of matte frosted glass has been removed and we are in the orchestra's immediate presence. The brass has real bite. The stereo spread is ample and details both subtle and stark emerge with freshness. The finale's hurried tension at 3.44 is superbly put across and so is the pizzicato at 4:13. Those six final asynchronous hammer-blows are staggeringly effective.
The Schmidt was last issued on Regis as part of an all-Schmidt collection. I had initially thought that this 1994 Mackerras was the same Second issued on a previous Regis but when I checked that was a 1988 recording with the LSO. The Mackerras was first issued on Tring DRP013 and the Schmidt on Tring DRP103 each as part of the Royal Philharmonic Collection.
The typically readable notes are by the redoubtable James Murray who is a regular with Alto and who contributes invaluably to their many attractive releases.

Rob Barnett
Two friends from the 1990s re-emerge arm-in-arm.