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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op. 43 [42.17]
Romance in C major, Op. 42 [5.56]
Symphony No 5 in E flat major, Op.82 [29.05]
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 [29.41]
Tapiola, Op. 112 [16.00]
Karelia Suite, Op. 11 [14.55]
Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22, No. 3 [8.03]
Lemminkainen’s Return, Op. 22, No. 4 [6.17]
Tossy Spivakovsky (violin)
Leonard Brain (cor anglais) (Swan)
Sinfonia of London/Tauno Hannikainen (symphonies, Karelia)
London Symphony Orchestra/Tauno Hannikainen (Concerto, Tapiola)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Collins (romance, Swan)
Stockholm Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sixten Ehrling (Lemminkainen)
rec. 1959 (Hannikainen - stereo), 1957 (Collins - mono) and 1952 (Ehrling - mono) MAGDALEN METCD8024 [77.29 + 75.19]
I was looking forward to getting to know Tauno Hannikainen’s
Sibelius recordings again having not listened to them for several
years. They were all critically acclaimed when they were first issued
and Magdalen has used World Record Club (WRC) pressings for their
transfers. The Symphonies and Karelia Suite were originally
recorded by World Record Club using their regular “house band”
and have previously been reissued on vinyl as HMV Concert Classics
(Symphony No.5), Classics for Pleasure (Symphony No.2)
and then coupled together on a Seraphim double CD set. The WRC LP
of the Violin Concerto and Tapiola features original
Everest recordings issued under licence by WRC and made available
some years later on budget Everest LPs (horrid pressings). They later
appeared on CD, transferred from the original 35mm master tapes. These
CD incarnations were superb.
Tauno Hannikainen was one of Sibelius’ favourite interpreters
and was given the honour of conducting the music at Sibelius’
funeral. On the basis that he performed this music while the composer
was still alive many people jumped to the conclusion that his recordings
are somehow authentic. Indeed, there was a time when it was thought
that Finnish conductors brought a special insight into the music of
Sibelius that was lacking in those born in other countries. As an
admirer of the complete symphony cycles given to us by the likes of
Colin Davis, Collins and Barbirolli I don’t hold this view.
Having said that, there is no denying that there is a special atmosphere
conjured up by Hannikainen. Whether this is anything to do with him
being a Finn I will leave to others to decide. It should be remembered
that when Hannikainen was in the studio the world wasn’t exactly
awash with recordings of the Sibelius symphonies. This lack of competition
may have resulted in his LPs being given rave reviews in some quarters.
Maybe the cult status he was afforded was going over the top.
Symphony No.2 does possess a peculiar magnetism that grips
the listener. The close, boxy but warm recording is highly involving
and the individual strands in the first section of the first movement
are set out very clearly. The stops and starts in Sibelius’
material are exaggerated by the conductor but the central climax is
as good as any on disc. Nowhere else do you hear those violin trills
producing such a thrilling frisson. The Hannikainen approach throughout
the work is one of cool detachment. There’s no obvious “interpretation”
going on and on that basis he does get to the core of the music. The
slow movement is stark - maybe just the way Sibelius intended it?
- and it’s only in the finale that you get any spirit of romanticism.
The lack of flow and forward momentum is offset by extraordinary clarity.
The final climax is monumental but please be warned - Hannikainen
instructs his timp player to play off the beat in the final bars.
The orchestral playing in general is erratic with a couple of howlers
from the brass and moments of less than perfect ensemble elsewhere
but no matter - as an overall conception this is still a superb, atmospheric
and tough-sounding Sibelius 2. The phrase “Rough but Authentic”
springs to mind.
Symphony No.5 finds the orchestra in a more flattering acoustic
and in much better form. The conductor’s view, in line with
Symphony No.2, is as unromantic, cool and matter of fact as
you could imagine. Under Hannikainen's direction the gear-changes,
so often a downfall in this symphony, are as smooth as could be and
the control is most impressive. The great horn theme in the finale
will come as something of a shock or disappointment to some. It lacks
glow or romantic lilt but the detachment does have a strange appeal.
With so many performances in this oft-recorded symphony being heavily
romanticised this is a very refreshing change. The recording quality
is spacious, detailed and less studio-bound than that given to Symphony
No.2. The original coupling for Symphony No.5, the Karelia
Suite, is suitably jaunty with an opening Intermezzo taken
at one heck of a pace and concluding with a lively Alla Marcia.
The Sinfonia of London players sound as if they are enjoying themselves
after their gaunt, stressful reading of symphony.
Tapiola and Tossy Spivakovsky's account of the Violin Concerto
constitute one of Everest’s finest releases. Hannikainen gives
a detached reading of Tapiola - no surprises here - and the
tense, brooding atmosphere he generates is spine-tingling. He strikes
me as being an unfussy conductor who allows the music to make its
mark without too much intervention. Tapiola should chill the
blood. This version does just that. The LSO, despite a rare lapse
in the woodwind section that should have been corrected, give us one
the best Tapiolas ever committed to disc. Spivakovsky’s
version of the Violin Concerto is erratic, original and very
special indeed. The opening theme of the first movement is magical
and Spivakovsky sets the tone for a performance that never sags. Without
doubt this is due in part to the accompaniment given to him by Hannikainen
and the LSO. The violin image is small-toned but set well forward
and every note - and occasional slip - is captured with great presence.
The LSO play with great distinction and the balance between orchestra
and soloist is just right. Don’t expect impeccable playing from
Spivakovsky. Some of the sul G playing is on the sharp side
and the opening of the last movement is not very secure rhythmically.
These passing criticisms are of no import. What you get is an overall
performance that sounds absolutely idiomatic. There are more polished
versions around but this one simply has to be heard and it’s
worth the cost of the set alone. The fillers are just that - nice
bonuses, nothing more, nothing less. You should buy this set to experience
Hannikainen and Spivakovsky.
Being in a position to listen to several LP and CD incarnations of
these Hannikainen recordings in order to make comparisons with the
Magdalen set I must add a little caution. The transfer of Symphony
No.2 has an uncomfortable, washed-out string sound. This bears
little resemblance to the WRC LP or Seraphim CD. By attempting to
reduce hiss and distortion the string tone has been severely compromised.
Despite the clicks and pops my LP sounds superior. Magdalen’s
transfer has an artificial “digital” top end that I find
unappealing. The string tone comes and goes. The rest of the programme
doesn’t suffer from this to such an extent and the transfers
are generally successful. Symphony No.5 and Karelia
sound much more like the LPs. The Everest transfers sound very good
indeed. Bear in mind that these are LP transfers and there is some
residual background noise and end of side distortion. In summary,
try to dig out the deleted Seraphim and Everest CDs if you can get
hold of them. If not, give this a try. Magdalen should be applauded
for bringing these classic recordings back into the public domain.