6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic music, patchy performances
, 23 Jun. 2004
This review is from: Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 3 & 7 (LSO Live) (Audio CD)
Although an admirer of Sir Colin Davis - I especially love his LSO Live Bruckner recordings - I've always found his Sibelius a bit hit and miss. This new CD is a typical example: there are some very fine things here but there are also occasions when Davis is simply wide of the mark.
We start with the criminally underrated 3rd Symphony. Am I alone in thinking that the glorious first movement is one of Sibelius's very finest compositions? Davis starts and finishes the movement very well and overall it's one of the better recordings of this frequently botched piece, but around the middle there are some rather muddled passages and some melodic
lines and embellishments are renderred rather meaningless as a result. Contrast with Leaper on Naxos where every note makes perfect sense and the sensation of building excitement and tension is exhilarating. Davis also has a tendency to slow things down at key moments, thus dissipating the power of the piece slightly.
The slow movement - which I have to confess I can take or leave - is played fairly slowly but effectively, although the intended yearning, lilting quality doesn't quite come off properly somehow.
On the other hand the first "scherzo" part of the Finale is done extremely well. In fact I've never heard it sound better. Davis brings real magic to the fragmentary lines and phrases that weave around each other before finally resolving into the finale proper (which is also done very well). Superb.
Sibelius's 7th is probably my favourite piece of music of all time. Why this masterpiece has never been accorded its rightful place in history as one of the three most important orchestral works of the 20th Century - with La Mer & the Rite of Spring - is beyond me. Much has been said about the way the conventional symphonic movements are woven effortlessly into one single movement, but what is just as remarkable is the equally effortless way Sibelius manages to combine Romanticism, classicism and modernism into one unified whole and does so with such invention and artistry that these terms are transcended and become obsolete. Oh and much of it is strikingly beautiful.
So what of Davis's latest version? Well, it's ok. The opening adagio is played well, if a little slowly for my tastes; the gorgeous hymn section therein is handled with much poise and no lack of feeling. For sheer expressive beauty though it falls a fair way short of Leaper (again) on Naxos. The rest of the symphony is done well enough (although both the strings and woodwind could do with a bit more weight at times and there is some clumsiness here and there) and this is a perfectly serviceable reading. I'll certainly play it every now and then but I wouldn't rank it alongside the greatest versions - Leaper on Naxos, Maazel on Decca, Segerstam on Chandos, Karajan on DG, Berglund on EMI, Leaper on Arte Nova et al.
Overall, you can't go too far wrong here - particularly if you want both of these great works on one disc - but more distinguished versions of both symphonies are available, even at this price.
I've given 4 stars but 3 and a half would probably be more appropriate.
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