1865-1957 Symphonies 1-7 conducted
by Anthony Collins
DISC 1 [59.44]
Symphonies: No. 1 (rec Feb 1952) and No. 7 (rec
Feb 1954) Karelia Overture
DISC 2 [69.14]
Symphonies: No. 2 (rec May 1953) and No. 6 (rec
DISC 3 [67.57]
Symphony No. 3 (rec May 1954); Pohjola's Daughter
(rec May 1954); Pelleas and Melisande (Melisande; Pastorale;
At the spinning wheel; Intermezzo; Death of Melisande) (rec Feb 1954);
Nightride and Sunrise (rec June 1955)
DISC 4 [61.41]
Symphonies: No. 4 (rec Feb 1954) and No. 5 (rec
MONO (4 discs) [258 min]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins. Rec Kingsway Hall, London, 1952-55.
BEULAH 1-4PD8 The set is avaible at a special price also available
separately at full price.
This set was the first domestically available intégrale of the Sibelius
symphonies. The project's 'begetter' was Decca senior producer Victor Olof
(who also enjoyed a fruitful recording relationship with Campoli). Olof had
the foresight to select the then ex-pat Collins (1893-1963) who had been
making a conducting and composition (film) career for himself in California.
This may well have seemed a very long-shot to most people. However it paid
off handsomely. It was issued as the LP was well and truly 'finding its legs'.
The 78 era held some fine performances including the Kajanus recordings,
Schneevoigt in No 4 and Koussevitsky in No 7. The LP offered the compelling
virtue of long playing sides apt to the large paragraphs in which Sibelius
thought and 'spoke'.
Sibelius was in his final decade when the recordings were made (he died in
1958). His shivering and shimmering star seemed to have not merely set but
sunk amid a fashionable mêlée of anti-melodic modernity or pallid
neo-classicism. Against this background the choice of an unfashionable orchestra,
an unknown conductor and repertoire that seemed destined for oblivion might
have seemed unduly adventurous (would it have been permitted by the latter-day
Decca?). In fact the choice turned out to be extremely perceptive - all the
more so with some rather fine recordings (hiss levels are just perceptible
and not at all distracting in this company) in the company's rightly vaunted
The discs were issued to some acclaim but their shelf-life was limited by
the onset of stereo. The original Decca LXTs held their place in the catalogue
for some years but then disappeared and reappeared on LP in the late 50s
on Decca's Ace of Clubs, the first budget-price LP
series, re-emerging in the early 1970s on Decca's budget ECLIPSE
label in, horror of horrors, electronic stereo. These issues were distinguished
by 'wandery' channels, rather pallid transfers with much attentuated dynamic
range and wintry sleeve photographs of National Trust UK locations. At 99p
they must have been many newbies' introduction to the grand Finnish master.
Anthony Collins plays the tension and relaxation of these symphonies like
a big game fisherman in Arctic 'waste of seas'. His interpretations are pliant
and apt to respond warmly to the pitch and toss of these now largely familiar
(numbers 3 and 6 are still rarely heard in the concert hall) scores.
The first symphony has string solos of restrained sweetness (4.38 in I) and
bass drum thuds (7:13; I) which impress on any count. Coal-seam brass and
moments of monumental drama (e.g the string cascade 2:57, IV) deck out this
classic recording. The Lemminkainen-like 'stuttering' at 6:06 (IV) is notable
reminding us of the Kullervo Symphony (and what a pity that Collins/Decca
never recorded that work).
Symphony No. 7 is just a touch civilised though still conveying some rough-hewn
qualities washed over by wild wintry torrents. Though taut it is not the
equal of the 1960s EMI (now BMG) stereo Mravinsky.
The second symphony is interpreted and recorded in a way that catches its
earthy mystery as well as its exhilaration. Not fully the equal of Barbirolli's
RPO (Reader's Digest) stereo recording it still develops considerable whipcrack
excitement. Listen to the first few minutes of the third movement and stop
listening if you can. The gales in this work ply the nordic saplings double
and reach across the years to Sibelius's final 'symphony' Tapiola. Those
gleaming strings flash and shudder in the finale. There are so many highlights
but listen particularly to the midnight satin strings at 9.20 (III). On the
down-side I wondered about the unanimity of the trombones in the long finale.
The work has many glories and bids high to be one of the enduring treasures
in the annals of recorded sound.
No. 6 is very cleanly recorded and indomitably paced but did I notice
concentration and tension slackening in first movement? Doubts however are
soon swept away. The woodwind effervesce vivaciously throughout. For those
who find symphonies 1 and 2 too overtly romantic try 3 and 6. The finale
of No. 6 calls irresistibly across northern meadows in twilight and perpetual
anticipation. That ringing inwardly-lit string tone is as satin is to tweed.
In the clean-limbed Third Symphony Collins puts across the controlled icy
fever of the string writing and does so with great fervour. The work's almost
classical restraint contrasts with its two predecessors. Some of the edges
are softened as at 2.30 (first movement) in the strings. However in the finale
the burred rolling horns (completely uncompromised by the passage of the
years) register fervently in a rapid furious wave.
The sombrely glowing riches of Pohjola's Daughter provide an easeful
bardic beauty conjured from bleak shadows and a rock-steady beat. The work
is effectively a mini-symphony. Any film music fan exploring classical music
would do well to listen to this before any of the Sibelius symphonies. It
is simply one of the imaginative masterpieces of 20th century orchestral
There are five excerpts from the salon-like Pelléas and
Mélisande. The flickering strings sound really splendid in the
spinning wheel movement. It would not surprise me if they had inspired Bernard
Herrmann in his score for The Magnificent Ambersons.
Nightride and Sunrise (1903) is all you might wish for with many
attention-capturing features including the metallic clash of iron-shod hooves
(00.21) and a fascinating ultra-fast beat at 3.36. The woodwind interventions
are explosive. The sunrise looks forward to Nielsen's own Mediterranean sunrise:
the Helios overture of six years later. Strange to recall that the
long-sustained underpinning rhythm was suggested by the rail-patter of a
No. 4 is suitable gravelly and cool (cold even) but in this recording it
could have done with more spotlighting of solos. The cello in the first movement
seemed recessed though in fact I am sure the balance is quite naturalistic.
Nevertheless the oboe in the second movement enjoys some winning prominence
in the aural landscape. Things do not go so flowingly in the final movement
though the sound is again wonderful. Listen to the bells at 00.20. This is
not the equal of the Colin Davis version (Philips).
No. 5 is an epic symphony, not in duration (less than 30 mins in Collins'
hands), but in spirit. A lively muscularity blends the lighter emotions
(sometimes the lighter Sibelius seems to peak through the thicket) with
threatening and unpredictable elemental forces. Collins does not strive to
darken this symphony but very little of its natural power escapes his gimlet
eyes. The ticking strings accompanying the bell-theme on the woodwind (4.40)
in the finale are simply glorious and the sound quality is out of Ken Wilkinson's
top-drawer. The final hammer-chords are securely and satisfyingly captured.
All the above tapes were recorded at the fabled Kingsway Hall, recently (1999)
demolished. What a pity that experimental stereo tapes were not made in parallel
with the mono ones!
The covers of all four discs are drawn, as with the rest of the Beulah catalogue,
from the London Transport Museum. Vols 3 and 4 feature strikingly naturalistic
landscapes (both Epping Forest) by Walter Spradbery while the other two CDs
use paintings by Dame Laura Knight (and the poster art of Clair Leighton
(The Country Now).
The slip-case for all 4 discs uses a telling montage of a towsle-pated Sibelius
and a scene of snow and northern pines, a ghostly sun hung low and a single
The Beulah discs were first issued in 1994 and have been available as an
economically priced set for some years now. Do explore these discs. They
need no apologies. Classic Sibelius tellingly put across.
PS: Do not forget the Beulah Popular Sibelius
collection (sourced from EMI tapes of Collins and the RPO) as an 'anhang'
to this fine anthology.
Available also direct from:-
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