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Jonathan Woolf
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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43 (1901-1902) [42.17]
Symphony No 5 in E-flat major, Op 82 (1914-1919) [29.05]
Sinfonia of London/Tauno Hannikainen
rec. January 1959, Hammersmith Town Hall, London

My most recent experience of Hannikainen’s Sibelius was via his Moscow recordings, most notably the Fourth Symphony (see review) in a sequence made in 1957. The disc under review bears a far better-known provenance having been released on World Record Club and then reissued on EMI’s Classics for Pleasure CfP 40315. It’s the latter that has been used as Maestro Editions’ transfer whereas when the symphonies were reissued on Magdalen METCD8024, it was the former that was used.

Hannikainen had been active in Chicago at the start of the 50s but moved home to direct the Helsinki City Orchestra when Rafael Kubelík took over. He was one of a number of soloists and conductors admired by Sibelius and these London recordings were made less than two years after Sibelius’ death. His stalking tempo in the first movement of Symphony No 2 is more expansive than the tempo taken by, say, Kajanus but his sense of direction matches well with Jussi Jalas, though he tends to be a cooler customer than either. His accelerandos are finely calibrated and for the most part he brings strong sectional discipline to bear; there are a couple of moments of loose ensemble, doubtless as a result of limited rehearsal time and the orchestra’s relative unfamiliarity with Hannikainen. The Sinfonia of London, which everyone associates with Barbirolli’s British string music album, was a freelance band and had a gun-for-hire approach to the repertory but it played very well for authoritative conductors.

Symphony No 5 was recorded at the same sessions, made in Hammersmith Town Hall in London. He exerts the same tenacious symphonic grip here as in No 2 though again he shows himself a conductor whose priorities in the music are radically different from those of Kajanus, Jalas, and von Garaguly who are all more overtly vivid and dramatic exponents. There’s something about Hannikainen’s more watchful, eagle eye that vests these two readings with a majestic overview though not one without grace – for that sample the central movement which he takes relatively swiftly. He generates requisite momentum in the finale but through textual clarity not via density. The result is a cogent and powerful reading.

Chris Brereton’s transfers are fine, and there are only one or two mild clicks to show that you are listening to an LP transfer.

Jonathan Woolf

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