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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47 (1903 rev. 1905) [32:37]
Pelléas et Mélisande, Incidental Music, JS 147 (1905) - At the Castle, Prelude Act I, Scene 1 [2:47]; Mélisande, Prelude Act I, Scene 2 [3:54]; Death of Mélisande, Prelude Act V, Scene 2 [5:07]; Entr’acte, Prelude, Act IV, Scene 1 [2:30]
Symphony No 7 in C major, Op 105 (1923-1924) [18:31]
Janine Andrade (violin)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nils-Eric Fougstedt
rec. Helsinki, c 1953-59

Though the focus of this disc from the UK Sibelius Society is conductor Nils-Eric Fougstedt, the presence of Janine Andrade’s Decca 10” LP recording of the Violin Concerto might well attract some interest as it’s thought that this is its first appearance on CD. A number of live broadcasts of the violinist have been made available in recent years and there is a self-competing but live concerto performance too, given in February 1962, some years after this Decca recording, with the Orchestre National de la RTF with André Girard directing. It can be found on volume 10 of St Laurent Studio’s French Rarities series (YSL 0954).

There are significant differences in tempi between these two performances – the Girard is two minutes faster in total - and I suspect Fougstedt (1910-1961) exerts by some way the greater influence on his soloist than Girard. He and Andrade collaborate on a measured reading – it’s as slow as the classic wartime Ignatius recording – that seems to prefer to abjure extremes of fire and ice in this work. Rather it muses reflectively, elasticating passagework, scrupulously detailed, and whilst hardly stinting on the necessary technical resources never parading them as a virtue to be admired. Andrade takes her time over passagework and solo passages and Fougstedt ensures that the orchestra responds appropriately. The slow movement’s refined melancholy is never as extended as that of Ida Haendel, nor is it in any way sentimentalized. Things heat up in the finale but again the pace is not forced and there remains a strong focus on clarity. If Fougstedt collaborates expansively with Andrade there is strong evidence that he could follow a different soloist in other directions. Some years earlier he and the same orchestra as here, his Finnish Radio Symphony, accompanied David Oistrakh in the Sibelius Week concerts of 1954 in Helsinki. He and Oistrakh are two minutes fleeter in the first movement alone and keep up white heat intensity (Ondine ODE 809-2). By comparison Andrade is a scrupulous, though inevitably much lower-wattage interpreter. Those attuned to Heifetz, Wicks, Stern, Telmányi, Neveu, Damen, and Oistrakh will not find a huge amount to detain them here though personally I welcome this recording back to the catalogue, not least for the conductor’s chameleon-like interpretative role.

The four excerpts from Pelléas et Mélisande and the Seventh Symphony derive from a 1953 broadcast later released on an Allegro-Elite LP as being performed by ‘The Symphony Orchestra of Olympia directed by Antero Saike’. As Edward Clark makes clear in his very helpful two-page notes to this release, Fougstedt was much admired by Sibelius and he performed at the composer’s funeral and acted as pall bearer. The recording of the Seventh is the only one made by a Finnish conductor with any direct links to Sibelius given that Kajanus never made a recording of the symphony and neither did Schneevoigt, Järnefelt or Hannikainen. Perhaps it was the impetus of the original broadcast or Fougstedt’s habitual way with the work that makes it so rivetingly intense a performance. At 18:30 it’s fast by contemporary performance standards, though not alongside the manic reading of Paul van Kempen (see review) whose Telefunken recording of 1950 lasts a mere 16 minutes and is surely one of the most brusquely misconceived Sibelius recordings on disc. Fougstedt’s intensity is another matter, a result of logical build-up of material. He moulds the adagio introduction with a rich sense of motion, and negotiates the symphony’s changes of mood and tempo with resilient and profound insight. Marrying structural integrity with emotive candour he leads inexorably onwards in a performance as powerful in execution as it is convincing in conception. The opening notes are missing – this was a feature of the LP – but nothing can dim the impact of this reading other than its rather limited sound spectrum. Producer and engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has been enlisted here and has produced the best possible sound from the LP. Not to be overlooked are the four excerpts from Pelléas which are movingly played and directed, not least the Death of Mélisande, which is finely paced.

Fougstedt’s early death deprived the record buying public of the sheaf of LPs he should have made. It’s a small mercy that Danacord has begun to explore elements of his broadcast legacy that have survived. This newly restored disc deserves wide currency, principally for the Seventh Symphony and what we can infer about Finnish performance tradition. It’s also a vivid and powerful reminder of a great conductor.

Jonathan Woolf

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