Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 5 in E flat, Op. 82 [31:38]
Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104[29:44]
The Swan of Tuonela [9:12]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
rec. live 31 May 2003 (5), 6 December 2003 (6), Royal Festival Hall; live 22 September 2006 (Tuonela), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA 0065 [70:34]
This is, what, the fourth recording of the late Paavo Berglund in these symphonies? Helsinki Philharmonic, then Bournemouth, then Chamber Orchestra of Europe, all for different labels, and now the London Philharmonic is releasing these live recordings from 2003 to show Berglund’s artistry in the concert setting. I can’t claim to have heard every Berglund reading - I have the Helsinki ones and can access the COE discs via Naxos Music Library; the Bournemouth cycle will be reissued in January - but I can give you a short summary of this CD: very good performances, not dissimilar from their ancestors, and with sound that falls on the messier end of the live-concert spectrum.
The Fifth is very good. The ending of the first movement is maybe the tiniest bit stodgy and stiff, but the ending of the finale is truly, utterly glorious, except for one of those final chords - the fourth-to-last - which is weirdly longer than the rest. The French horns really do themselves proud throughout, most memorably when the finale modulates to glorious C major and Berglund asks them to play as loudly and resoundingly as possible.
On the other hand, the opening of the Sixth seems to exhibit a certain lack of direction; nuances and details finely shaped by conductors like Blomstedt or Maazel (Pittsburgh) go unnoticed, and there’s something just a little more matter-of-fact about the proceedings. The allegretto’s climax sags and comes off with unusual slowness, the whole movement clocking in at 6:19 - compare to Vanska, 6:31, or Berglund himself in Helsinki, 5:32. The finale is in keeping with Berglund’s personal hallmark: he has always taken the last movement of the Sixth very slowly, stretching it to around eleven minutes and underscoring the almost tragic way in which it seems to lose its path and fade into silence. It’s very well-done, and the Swan of Tuonela makes a gorgeous encore, although it does mean that after the triumph of the Fifth the CD ends on a decidedly down note. Why not Swan-Six-Five? And why not tell us who the cor anglais soloist is?
On the sound: there’s quite a bit of audience noise, coughing and squirming and seat-squeaking, throughout. The acoustic has that radio quality of all the orchestral sections seeming bigger and boomier than normal. The violins’ phrasing is, at times, quite clearly something recorded in a single take without patch-ups. This isn’t like live recordings from Pittsburgh on Exton or indeed from London in more recent years, in which you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of an audience or of orchestral imperfections.
Essential? No. Enjoyable? Yes. For the Sixth my top recommendations remain Blomstedt, Maazel (Pittsburgh) and Berglund in Helsinki; for the Fifth I still advise Bernstein, Blomstedt and, again, Berglund in Helsinki. But I’ve heard great things about Berglund’s recordings in Bournemouth, so check back in January.
Berglund’s fourth go at these symphonies, and a very good Fifth but a blah Sixth.
Masterwork Index: Sibelius Symphony 5 ~~ Symphony 6
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