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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op.43 (1902)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 1972
4.0 DTS HD MA 24/192khz surround sound/2.0 DTS HD MA 24/192khz Stereo
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS BD-A no catalogue number [44:57]

Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) conducted and recorded quite a lot of music by Sibelius during his long tenure (1936-1980) as Principal Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He recorded a good number of the tone poems and made three recordings of the Violin Concerto –with Isaac Stern, with David Oistrakh and one with the young American violinist, Dylana Jenson. Although there were to be no complete cycles in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s he set down a handful of the symphonies (1, 4/5, 2/7) for what was then CBS. Towards the end of his life he began a second cycle for RCA, which he never completed. All of his stereo Sibelius recordings for both those labels were issued in 2015 in a box of 8 CDs ("Eugene Ormandy conducts Sibelius", RCA Masters 8 88751 08582 4). I’ve not heard those recordings but I do recall a very fine Ormandy/Philadelphia recording of the Lemminkäinen Legends, which I used to have on LP. That was an EMI Classics release first issued in 1979 but preceded by a mono version made by Ormandy in Philadelphia in 1951.

HDTT’s documentation supplied with the disc is a bit short on key information but we are told that this present recording was made by RCA in 1972. Rob Barnett tells me that the aforementioned boxed set includes a recording of the Second Symphony which was set down on 26 April 1972 in the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Philadelphia. I’m pretty sure this must be the performance issued by HDTT. On their website they say that the recording has been transferred from an RCA 4-track Discrete Quadraphonic tape. The producer and engineer for RCA were, respectively, Max Wilcox and Paul Goodman.
 
I listened to this BD-A disc using the 2.0 Stereo option. The sound is bold but not aggressive and the orchestra is well reported. On my equipment the recording sounded very good.

Ormandy’s interpretation is straightforward in the sense that it’s free from idiosyncrasy. I enjoyed the performance very much and it seems to me that the conductor and his fine orchestra do full justice to this mighty symphony. The orchestra is capable of considerable power when the score calls for it but elsewhere they’re sensitive. The sound of the strings is rich, though never excessively lush while the brass section makes a splendid contribution; though the sound of the trumpets is bright it doesn’t have the glare that one sometimes encounters in American orchestras. There’s a good deal of excellent work from the woodwind choir.

Ormandy’s account of the first movement is very convincing. If anything, the second movement is even more persuasive. Here the power and rhetoric in the music register very well, helped, I’m sure, by the very present sound – incidentally, at the start the pizzicati in the cellos and basses are quite close up. I also admire the way the Philadelphia players bring out the dark hues in the scoring.

There’s dash and brilliance in the third movement though the trio episodes are suitably lyrical. Ormandy builds the transition to the finale very impressively and when he reaches the last movement itself his pacing is steady and majestic – though not too slow. The Philadelphia strings clearly love the big tune for it sings out wonderfully. The march episode is well done; Ormandy invests the music with quiet tension and then builds it up well. The second time the march appears, taking us towards the end of the symphony, the build-up is particularly impressive. In that passage, as a minor quibble, I would have liked the timpani part to come through just a bit more strongly – clearly the timpanist is playing to instruction because in the closing pages his drums can be heard very clearly. Ormandy achieves genuine grandeur at the end, the sound of his brass section golden and strong.

All in all I’d say that this performance is an excellent example if the partnership between Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia.

So the performance is a very good one and I’m sure it sounds better than ever before in this BD-A incarnation – I’ve not heard it as a CD. It’s a pity that HDTT didn’t include some more music since the playing time is pretty short. If you want to experience this performance in the most vivid sound possible then, despite the short playing time, this is the option to take. However, the recording is priced at $24.99 on the HDTT website and if you’re content with CD sound then you can get this recording as part of the boxed set that I mentioned earlier. Currently it’s possible to find that set for less than £20 online. Clearly a case of ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice.’

John Quinn

 

 




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