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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The recording I listen to again and again, 12 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 (Audio CD)
This is a review for those trying to decide which version of Sibelius 5th Symphony to buy because you love the final movement, and it connects with my review of the Colin Davis recording with the LSO. I'm simply not qualified to comment on the technical details of what Sibelius intended originally or whether this CD sounds good on £10K's worth of top-of-the-range hi-fi, I'm just going to cover the consumer 'wow' factor of the most popular bit.

If you're still with me, then you're interested in 'that movement' of Sibelius 5th. I've now got 3 versions of Sibelius 5th, this one, Colin Davis with the Boston Symphony (Phillips Classics B0000041BV) and Colin Davis with the LSO. I bought the Davis/LSO recently as it got the thumbs up from BBC Radio 3 Build a Library, which is an excellent source of musical advice.

So how does this recording do on the final movement of the 5th? Well, Ashkenazy starts off the final movement at the same brisk pace as Davis attacks the final movement of the 5th in both his recordings, but when the 'Swan theme' bursts in it is Ashkenazy who seems to provide the more majestic and soaring counter-point to the opening theme; he slows it down and opens it up. This should be a truly spine-tingling moment. I get that with the Ashkenazy in a way that I just don't with either of the Davis recordings. Indeed, the LSO recording brings the timpanic roll at the opening of the Swan theme right to the fore in a way that slightly jars and detracts from the first bar of the next section. The roles are reversed in the final abrupt chords, where the Ashkenazy recording seems to have music reverberating into the silence while the Davis LSO recording has an almost unreal black and white abruptness about the final chords in which the pauses are a sound vacuum.

Overall, for me the Ashkenazy recording has more depth and contrast than either of the Davis recordings, both technically (it sounds better on my consumer level kit) and in interpretation. The main theme seems to really savour and revel in the music. So I find myself in the unusual position of slightly disagreeing with Build a Library for a change. If you want the last movement of the 5th to wash over you again and again, this luxuriant all enveloping recording is the one to go for. If you prefer your Sibelius a bit sharp and frosty, go with the excellent Davis/LSO recording.

The acid test is, with 3 recordings of the 5th to chose between, which one is the one I turn to most often? This one. It costs a little more but then you'll only have to buy one version. 5 stars.
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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 by Jean Sibelius (Audio CD - 2010)
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