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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)  
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1903 rev 1905) [30:07]
Tapiola, Op. 112 (1926) [16.15]
Tossy Spivakovsky (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Tauno Hannikainen
rec. 1959, London
EVEREST SDBR 3045 [46:35]

Lovers of the Sibelius Concerto fall into several different camps when confronted by Tossy Spivakovsky’s dramatic, abandoned take on the concerto. Some refuse to board the train, dismissing the echt-Gypsy slides and ethos; others worry about occasional imprecisions; yet others admire the chutzpah but aren’t really persuaded. Then again, there are those who may feel some or all of these things (or none) and still capitulate and for the course of half-an-hour bask in the molten commitment of soloist and outstanding conductor Tauno Hannikainen, whose name alone is a kind of Sibelian tone poem.
 
I’ve always loved it. Few readings are as high octane, few as dramatically recorded, as pungently played, or idiomatically conducted. Spivakosvky’s larger-than-life bravado emerges in brilliantly negotiated passagework and in phraseology, some of which is subject to his very personal and controversial bowing. From the very start, with its remarkably hushed sound-world, you are aware that the narrative will unfold with huge contour and definition. Spivakovsky’s constant battery of ear-titillating expressive devices, allied to his virtuosic pyrotechnics, provides an exhaustingly thrilling performance. It’s the kind of solo playing that draws attention to itself in a marked, oratorical way, but that’s part of the Spivakosvky deal; take it, or leave it. The LSO’s baleful brass, brought to the fore so intensely via Everest’s remarkable recording quality, are the equal of the evocative winds, and the string counter-themes at the end of the first movement are equally persuasively placed. The passionate imprecisions of the cadenza attest to a blistering level of commitment from the soloist, though they are irrelevant imprecisions. Predictably the slow movement is aerated and highly expressive, Hannikainen accommodating his occasionally quixotic soloist with tact and imagination. Listen, too, to the sense of rapturous passion that the violinist generates as this movement comes to a close. No Finnish ice here; it’s molten. That there is no dissipation of tension in the finale is testament to the majestic sweep and power of the performers. The brass is held in reserve, its power unleashed when appropriate, as Spivakovsky leads the dance, gawky, leonine, and indestructibly alive.
 
After the histrionics and elemental drama of this still-astonishing reading, what is there left to say about its coupling, Tapiola, other than that it is perfectly paced, characterful, unselfconsciously phrased, and reveals Hannikainen to be a masterful Sibelian.
 
There is short measure, of course, in the latest incarnation of this Everest classic. It was coupled with the Tchaikovsky on Everest EVC 9035 but that was back in 2001. It also appeared much more recently on a Magdalen Sibelius/Hannikainen double (METCD8024). The only compensation in the case of the present issue is that half-an-hour of Spivakovsky is enough to rouse the blood. Of historic performances no one would willingly be without Heifetz, Stern, Wicks, Neveu, Oistrakh, Telmányi, Ignatius and so many more, but then I would never be without Spivakovsky.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Sibelius violin concerto