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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Thomas Jensen Legacy - Volume 1
Symphony No 2 (1901) [40:23]
Symphony No 7 (1924) [21.39]
Karelia Suite (1893) [14:09]
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47 (1903 rev. 1905) [33:19]
Lemminkäinen Suite (Four Legends from the Kalevala), Op 22 (1893-95) [44:40]
Emil Telmányi (violin)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen
rec. July 1962, live broadcast, Helsinki (Symphony 2), May 1963, studio broadcast, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Symphony 7), June 1952, studio recording (Karelia Suite), April 1952, studio recording (Violin Concerto), July 1953, studio recording, Copenhagen (Four Legends)
DANACORD DACOCD911 [76:36 + 78:25]

This is the first volume in a new series from Danacord devoted to the art of Thomas Jensen, both in terms of his commercial recordings and also his off-air discography. This opening twofer has examples of both aspects.

Jensen left the directorship of the Aarhus City Orchestra in 1957 after increasing arguments with the board but was soon appointed to the position of permanent conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony a few months later. It was an orchestra he had often conducted but, like Igor Markevitch somewhat later, he was assailed by hearing problems; in Jensen’s case, at the age of nearly 60, progressive deafness. The two Sibelius symphonies here were broadcast recordings made a number of years after the diagnosis and shortly before Jensen’s death in 1963 at the age of only 65.

The earlier of the two is the Second Symphony, a live broadcast from Helsinki in July 1962. He was always a powerful and charismatic conductor of this repertoire, cultivating a rich bottom to top string sonority but allowing room for brass and winds to cut through or rise above the string carpet. He takes tempi very similar to those of Jussi Jalas (see review), Sibelius’ son-in-law whose Berlin recording was made about a decade before Jensen’s. I am working from a copy in which the track timings for this work have gone haywire and which I assume will be corrected. If you happen to receive the kind of copy I did, be aware that the first track is correct but that tracks two and three are the slow movement (they run into each other) whilst track four contains the scherzo and finale.

Symphony No 7 was recorded only five months before Jensen’s death. It takes a standard, and to me, perfectly paced twenty-one and a half minutes and comes from a studio broadcast given in the Danish Radio Concert Hall. Though it’s significantly slower than accounts by such conductors as Nils-Eric Fougstedt (review) and Carl von Garaguly (review), it is more overtly expressive than their accounts. Notwithstanding his hearing loss, he – and the orchestra – manage to negotiate the symphony’s organic development, and its kaleidoscopic emotionalism, from a surprisingly naked tenderness to moments of the utmost grandeur. Not everything is perfect but much is exceptionally vivid.

The remaining three works were recorded in 1952-53 either for Decca or, in the case of the Violin Concerto, for the domestic Tono label. If we take that work first, it’s in the hands of the Hungarian-born virtuoso Emil Telmányi, who was much associated with the work as he was – even more – with the concerto and chamber music of Nielsen. Telmányi isn’t a fire-and-ice interpreter – thus he has neither Heifetz’s rapier nor Anja Ignatius’ coolness. Instead, he steers away from using the concerto as a warhorse. Sibelius is known to have approved of his tempo and conception of the slow movement, in particular, which he vests with a strongly prayerful quality. The result is a considered reading that largely eschews the volcanic.

In 1952 Jensen recorded the Karelia Suite, an admired and well-judged Decca but the twofer ends, and rightly, with one of his very best recordings, the Lemminkäinen Suite, where all his greatest interpretative qualities can be admired. This has been reissued several times and for many will remain, sonics notwithstanding, as one of the greatest traversals on disc. Powerfully but subtly driven, it’s Jensen’s ability to mould phraseology so atmospherically that still ensures the success of the four legends.

The accomplished transfers are in the hands of Claus Byrith and the notes are typically fine. This looks set to be a significant series, not least in this inaugural volume because the two symphony performances are making their first appearance on CD.

Jonathan Woolf

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