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The Sibelius Edition: Volume 12 - Symphonies
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä (symphonies)Jaakko Kuusisto (fragments – all world premiere recordings)
rec. Church of the Cross (Ristinkirkko), Lahti, Finland, 1995-97. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1933-35 [5:19:31]

Reviewed as download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  Also available from dealers as 5-CD set.

Throughout Sibelius Year 2015 BIS’s download site, eclassical.com, has been re-releasing the volumes of their complete Sibelius Edition.  That has been a very welcome move because it means that the download versions, which had been uncompetitive, are now available for less than the physical product.  The CD set of Volume 12 sells for around £41, though some dealers have reduced it temporarily to around £32, but downloaders can save even on those reductions at $23.95.  Please make sure that you follow the link to the correct version: eclassical.com still also have their uncompetitive set at $47.89.

For comparison the new BIS 3-CD set of just the regular versions of the symphonies, from the Lahti Symphony Orchestra directed by Okko Kamu, costs $25.21 in 16-bit, $35.29 in 24-bit from eclassical.com and around £23 on disc (BIS-SACD-1076 – Recording of the Month).  The Essential Sibelius, 15 CDs for the price of 4, an excellent bargain on disc which contains the Vänskä symphonies and much more, though not the alternative versions, is vastly overpriced by eclassical.com at $168.55.   It’s available on disc for as little as £44 (BIS-CD-1697/1700).  Don’t assume that downloading always saves money.

The Sibelius Edition re-releases have been coming at one a month since the end of 2014: I reviewed the first three volumes slightly belatedly in Download News 2015/2.  This is the twelfth and, I imagine, for most the prize reissue, though Volume 1, containing the Tone Poems and variants (BIS-CD-1900/02), should also be a popular choice.  The series will conclude with Volume 13 in December 2015 with a 4-CD set of miscellaneous works.

The only way to obtain these performances of the symphonies for less is to download the Amazon UK set of the complete Symphonies, including the original and final versions of No.5, Karelia Suite, Lemminkaïnen Suite, En Saga, Finlandia, Violin Concerto (with Leonidas Kavakos), etc., seven and a half hours of music, for an unbelievably inexpensive £6.99, albeit at a low-ish bit-rate and without booklet.  The BIS booklet runs to 128 pages and is well worth having, especially for the notes on the alternative versions and fragments, which are not included on the Amazon set, apart from the two versions of No.5.

This is more by way of alerting readers to the availability of the set than a review.  Osmo Vänskä’s recordings of the symphonies need no detailed introduction from me at this stage: my colleagues and I have written about them so many times that it’s sufficient to say that they equal or excel the best of the many recordings that I’ve heard over the years, starting with Anthony Collins, whose Decca Ace of Clubs reissues many of my friends owned, and Tauno Hannikainen, whose authoritative if slightly wayward LP versions of Nos. 2 and 5 came my way as a subscriber to World Record Club.  The Collins cycle has been reissued, very decently cleaned up but inevitably in 1950s mono, by Beulah and is available from Amazon UK on CD and from iTunes as a download – see May 2010 Download Roundup, with links to earlier reviews.

Vänskä has re-recorded four of the symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra and while I liked these very much, especially for their availability as 24-bit downloads or on SACD, I am not alone in marginally continuing to prefer the earlier Lahti Symphony versions:
- Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 BIS-SACD-1986 – reviewDownload Roundup February 2012/1
- Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 BIS-SACD-1996 – reviewDownload News 2013/17

The older Lahti recordings are available in 16-bit sound only but they still sound extremely well, though they sound best at a slightly higher volume than normal if you can do so without offending the neighbours. 

Subscribers to Qobuz can stream the set there, with booklet – others should be able to sample, but I understand that the link doesn’t always work.  Their download price, hitherto the most competitive, is now undercut by eclassical.com.  If you don’t yet know these performances and listen via Qobuz or Naxos Music Library you should be warned that you are likely to want to obtain this wonderful set.  Don’t click the iTunes purchase button from NML – you’ll find yourself paying twice the price (£39.99/$49.99) for an inferior mp3 product.

You should find comparing the two versions of Symphony No.5 as interesting as comparing the BIS recording of the two versions of the Violin Concerto (BIS-CD-500 or Sibelius Edition Volume 8, BIS-CD1921/23).  The fragments and alternative movements on CD5 are not likely to form part of your regular listening but this is nevertheless an interesting bonus to an essential purchase.  I’m not sure how long the bundle will be available at this give-away price: snap it up now.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Rob Barnett

Details
Symphony No.1 in e minor, Op.39 (1898–99, rev. 1900) [34:52]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43 (1901–02) [44:31]
Symphony No.3 in C, Op.52 (1904–07) [30:18]
Symphony No.4 in a minor, Op.63 (1909–11) [39:13]
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82 – original version (1915) [34:55]
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82 – final version (1919) [31:13]
Symphony No.6 (in d minor), Op.104 (1922–23) [26:39]
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105 (1923–24) [22:44]
Fragments and Preliminary Versions:
from Symphony No.1, including a complete version of the third movement [16:32]
from Symphony No.2 [6:57]
from Symphony No.3, including a complete version of the second movement [12:48]
from Symphony No.4, including a complete version of the second movement [5:44]
from Symphony No.7 [7:40]

 




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