- Conductor: Sir Colin Davis
- Composer: Jean Sibelius
- Audio CD (5 Oct. 2009)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 4
- Format: Box set
- Label: LSO Live
- ASIN: B002LTJ30G
- Other Editions: MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,753 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Kullervo [LSO/Colin Davis] Box set
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Here, assembled and repackaged, are Colin Davis’s recordings of the Sibelius symphonies made live with the London Symphony Orchestra between September 2002 and July 2008. You also get the composer’s early symphonic poem for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Kullervo.
First, some background: Davis championed Sibelius’s music in the UK and America before it became mainstream. Cue the lazy PR spiel that he’s among the world’s leading interpreters of the Finn’s music. In truth, Davis’s early Sibelius recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra have dated. Added to that, audiences have recently begun to accept as definitive the cool, often sparse interpretations offered by Finnish artists that reveal more of the inherent darkness and light in the music.
But none of that lessens the impact of these recordings, which are at best very fine indeed. The mature Davis has a way with the music’s architecture like few other conductors. The pace of the expansive Second and Fifth Symphonies is masterful. Combined with the innate warmth and pretty much faultless playing of the LSO, it makes for some of the most readily satisfying performances available.
So, when Sibelius’s ‘big tunes’ arrive, they seem to do so just at the right time. In the Fifth symphony’s final movement, Davis holds back at the moment the Swan theme modulates, but other than that the tempo doesn’t change: it’s emotionally effective, but also steers a satisfying course between the purist Finns and the schmaltzy Americans.
A sense of structure and direction impresses in the more elusive symphonies too, particularly the eerie Fourth, which hangs together as well as Karajan’s. Kullervo is an unmitigated triumph: LSO Live’s sometimes boxed-in sound engineering can impede elsewhere, but here it only adds to a vivid sense of earthbound journeying. The Chorus delivers uncannily authentic Finnish pronunciation.
Vladimir Ashkenazy’s ongoing cycle with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic is a clear current rival: it offers a Seventh symphony of greater vulnerability and more clarity and balance elsewhere. But any cycle boils down to musical sense and structure. The LSO’s consistent confidence and warmth can exhaust, but wrapped up in it is an unshakeable stamp of authority. --Andrew Mellor
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'There is so much about these performances that is ear-opening - or just plain magnificent.' -- BBC Music Magazine (UK), Symphony No 2
'... this might turn out to be the finest Sibelius cycle on disc ... superbly handled by these fine players under a master Sibelian' -- The Observer (UK), Symphony No 2
'[Davis's] love for this music emerges from every bar of his pristine, expansive yet momentous account ... this new version is still more intense, yearning, mysterious ... this disc deserves to fly out of the shops.' -- Sunday Times (UK), Symphonies Nos 3&7
'stunning ... Flawless committed playing of the LSO, but what's really remarkable is the sense of space that Davis brings to the music - you can hear every note in the orchestral texture'
DISC OF THE MONTH -- Classic FM Magazine (UK), Symphonies Nos 5&6
Disc of the Month -- Gramophone (UK),Symphony No 2
Top Customer Reviews
Though the acoustic of the Barbican is dryish and lacking a little in depth of perspective, it is better suited to Sibelius than the plush sound of, say, "Decca' in Vienna and is not really a problem. If the best sound is a must, then go for the "Bis" recordings.
There is another version conducted by Rozhdestvensky on "Melodyia" which I would place even higher than Davis's, despite the relatively high price and the less-than-perfect playing and recording, the latter giving too much prominence to the brass occasionally. However, these readings have an overwhelming epic sweep and are incredibly exciting. They evoke the dark forests and the snow-covered landscapes to a sometimes quite frightening degree, which make them my personal preferred versions of these mighty symphonies.
However, buyers should be aware that every symphony is accompanied by vocal contributions from Sir Colin Davis and if this is likely to get on your nerves, it's probably best to have this set on the basis of the performances and an additional one omitting the vocal variations.
The symphonies were recorded live during concerts in the Barbican, and the recorded sound is exemplary. For me the icing on the cake is the glorious version of "Kullervo" - a massive five-movement, 72-minute epic that was the composer's first symphonic work. I haven't heard this piece since I had the Paavo Berglund set on EMI vinyl when I lived in South Africa in the early '80s, so it's a real joy to hear it again.
This is music to entertain, to excite, to move you to the depths of your soul. If you want just one, really complete, set of the Sibelius symphonies, this is definitely the one - and at the asking price, what a bargain!
My music collection has been full of it with performances of varying quality. Somehow the music always transcended the quality of the recording or the musicians performing it - I thought. But this year, as a result of the the BBC's Symphony series, I replayed one of my recordings and changed my mind. It was awful and had to be replaced.
I was looking for a complete series and as soon as I saw Colin Davis' name I knew this had to be the one. What a great choice. I bought MP3 as I play music increasingly on my PC and I haven't stopped playing it since.
These performances have raised the hair on the back of my neck, brought tears to my eyes and lifted my spirit. They have reinforced my love of Sibelius and shown me the difference between an average and a truly great interpretation.
Whether or not you already love Sibelius, and whether or not it has been recommended on CD Review, I don't care. I recommend this recording unreservedly and I know you'll love it.
Sir Colin mostly chooses slow tempi and a subdued, thoughtful sound, with appropriate climaxes, and he completely avoids the super-dynamic tendency that is in fashion in our time - thanks Heaven! You immediately hear that his versions are amazingly fresh, yes, sort of revolutionary, and they have a universal stamp at the same time, a bit different from the great national Finnish tradition, starting with Robert Kajanus and leading up to Salonen, Berglund, Kamu, Segerstam, Saraste and Vänskä in later days. There is an astounding and compelling originality in the majestic Sibelian sound world of these four live discs, with excellent playing of LSO.
Symphony No 1 is powerful and relievingly un-Tchaikovskyan, the great Second and Fifth magisterially soaring in the upper regions of music. No 3 has a lighter, almost pastoral character, much attractive. No 4 owns nothing of that gloomy "bark bread" character that traditionally is attached to it. No 6, the symphony with four fast tempi, is surprisingly slow and moderate, until the enormously effective finale comes. And I think I have never heard No 7, a symphony often difficult to structure well, so winningly and convincingly played.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Absolutely no problems. Arrived on time, well packaged, as described. :-)Published 10 months ago by ash
I have enjoyed this set of recordings of my beloved Sibelius and hesitate to criticise them. Davis was undoubtedly a great Sibelius conductor. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Lance Edwards
I bought this mainly because of the Radio 3 recommendation for the 5th Symphony. The playing and sound of the orchestra is amazingly delightful but there are some very irritating... Read morePublished on 13 Dec. 2013 by Michael H Richmond
For price, it would be hard to beat this package in terms of modern recording quality.
In terms of performances, there is obviously strong competition from Vanska & the... Read more
There is much to admire here, with orchestral playing of the highest quality and the interpretation is never less than intelligent and interesting, though perhaps missing at times... Read morePublished on 21 May 2013 by Mr. A. J. Downs
I haven't yet played the entire set, but the ones I have heard interpret Sibelius excellently with live recordings not spoiltt by a live audience.Published on 6 May 2013 by Dr. R. Pugh
I stumbled across Sibelius while listening to Classic FM (I was avoiding something on Radio 1). Having never heard of him before I was surprised by how much Symphony 6 grabbed me... Read morePublished on 29 Dec. 2012 by Bobble