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Sibelius sy7 Mravinsky HDTT7392

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105 (1924)
The Swan of Tuonela No.3 Op. 22 (1895)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgeny Mravinsky
rec. live February 1965, Grand Concert Hall, Moscow Conservatoire
Reviewed as download

This live account of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony is strangely taut and aggressive; from the very first emphatically punched notes of the ascending C major scale, phrases are almost clipped and the strings have a rather harsh sound, giving Sibelius an unsettling feeling – there is nothing of Ormandy’s or Karajan’s sumptuousness about this. The first announcement of the chorale of hymn tune is rather prosaically delivered and the brass all have a watery, wavery, blaring sound like a herd of elephants in musth; the fortissimo and vivacissimo sections are a riot – of excitement yes, but also of some offensively out-ot-tune playing, especially from the trombones, so the potential poetry of “Aino’s theme” is somewhat vitiated by their racket and the raucous, swelled chord concluding the work pretty much typifies the nature of the performance as a whole. I cannot help but feel that for all his manifold gifts, especially in Russian composers, Mravinsky and his orchestra had little feeling for Sibelius’ symphonic idiom.

The rarefied atmosphere required for a successful account of The Swan of Tuonela is hard to achieve live when the audience is restless and these are live concert performances with the odd cough and sneeze, often at inopportune moments. The very closely recorded sound has obviously been much improved by HDTT but remains edgy and shallow, so climaxes cannot really deliver as they should. The Leningrad orchestra certainly finds more delicacy and refinement for the Swan, making it, to my ears at least, far more enjoyable, even though there are still peculiarities such as the little tremolo in the timbre of the otherwise poetic solo cor anglais.

The running time is very short; presumably Mravinsky performed only the one piece from the Lemminkäinen Suite in addition to Sibelius’ shortest symphony – which is in effect, a tone poem, too, like the Swan. This is one only for the curious and Mravinsky completists; return to Ormandy and Karajan for the genuine experience.

Ralph Moore

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