Sir Colin Davis and the LSO have consistently impressed me with their LSO Live series of the Sibelius symphonies. There is something especially Scandinavian about the way Davis looks at these symphonies. I can almost see the dark, overcast forests of Sibelius' Finland. Davis does more than just create a Finnish atmosphere, however, which is what separates it from what I heard of his RCA set, also with the LSO. He seems to constantly be involved, and his love for the music is evident. While Davis' approach may not be everyone's taste, he has arrived at a unique way of performing these symphonies that is undeniably unique and full of personality.
Starting things off on this disc we hear the Sibelius 3rd. A work that some conductors have seemed afraid to perform, it is wonderfully cheerful for Sibelius. (Karajan, as much of a Sibelius fan as he was, never included this in his sets of the symphonies.) Reviewers have complained that Davis seems to try to make this piece more sober than is necessary. This isn't a crazy complaint, as you could add more fun and "let loose" more than Davis did without losing the magic of the piece. Still, I found myself sympathetic with Davis; the beauty of the orchestral sound combined with the excitement Davis infuses into the work sends me into raves. The soberness Davis never lets leave doesn't seem to hinder the enjoyment of the piece. Davis lets his orchestra dig into the music, he just always makes sure that the end result will leave you thinking, not just excited. For me, this symphony can handle this kind of approach. I'll leave the final decision up to you.
I'll agree with John Grabowski (on the US Amazon)that the 7th symphony is almost too good to be played. Davis certainly doesn't bring this piece to its full potential. But, having said that, I'll have to say that Davis does an awfully good job. Some of the moments are brought forth so wonderfully that it is almost unreal. What's not to be questioned is the fact the Davis keeps the musical line following very persuasively, building the symphony up to its glorious conclusion without seeming either rushed or dragging. I guess what makes this performance so successful in my mind is the poignant sadness that Davis is able to pull out of the work without ever resorting to hysteria. The sheer desolation one feels after listening is indescribably touching.
I'll call this recording a success. It's certainly proved immensely satisfying to me. I would recommend the disc to anyone who wants the same experience.