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Kajanus conducts Sibelius - vol. 2
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Belshazzar's Feast Suite, Op. 51 (Oriental Procession; Solitude; Night Music; Khadra’s Dance) [14:40]
Karelia Suite, Op. 11 (Intermezzo; Alla marcia)[7:52]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 [39:20]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphony 2, Karelia); London Symphony Orchestra/Robert Kajanus
rec. Central Hall, Westminster, 27-28 May 1930 (Symphony 2; Karelia); EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, 24, 29 June 1932. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111394 [61:52]

Here, hot on the heels of volume 1, is the second of three of Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers from original 1930s Sibelius Society 78s. The third and last should be out very soon. It will feature symphonies 3 and 5 plus the fascinating March Of The Finnish Jaeger Battalion. The contents follow the equivalent CDs issued by Koch International back in the early 1990s. The same engineer was also contracted by Koch to do the transfers. I have not heard any of the Koch discs but they are unlikely to be preferred over these Naxos issues since Mr Obert-Thorn tells me: “Back then, I was just starting out doing transfers professionally. I did the Koch series on open-reel tape … I was only able to remove the worst pops and clicks through use of a razor blade and splicing tape. Now, I record and edit digitally, using CEDAR de-clicking, which cleans the sound up much more thoroughly than the old method. Also, I leave the sound much more open and less filtered than I did twenty years ago.”
 
Naxos tells us that when offered a grant in 1930 to foster a wider international interest through recordings to be made in London Sibelius chose Kajanus without a blink: “there are none who have gone deeper and given (my symphonies) more feeling and beauty than Robert Kajanus”.
 
The programme is artfully sequenced. First we get the fey and fragile exotica, glistening fantasy and wan orientalism of Belshazzar's Feast. Then come the exuberant outer movements of the Karelia Suite: why did Kajanus opt for just the two, I wonder? Was it some non-musical pressure that prompted the decision? In any event Kajanus adopts a buoyant upbeat approach. The Second Symphony is also pushed and whirled along rather than indulgent or languorous. The first movement may even seem a bit breathless and much the same can be said of the finale. Otherwise speeds are apt but unremarkable. Phrasing is nicely sculpted throughout.
 
The notes by Colin Anderson are spot-on and there is an extended introduction by Mark Obert-Thorn giving us some insight into the diligent and punctilious work involved in assembling the best sounding result from as many as four different sets of 78s in the case of the Second Symphony.
 
Sibelius voiced by the composer’s chosen conductor in the best sounding transfers yet.
 
Rob Barnett 

Masterwork Index: Sibelius symphony 2

Series Index: Naxos Historical