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The Sibelius Symphonies in Splendid Re-Creation,
This review is from: Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Kullervo [LSO/Colin Davis] (Audio CD)
British conductors and orchestras seem to have a specially refined feeling for the works of Sibelius. I once learnt to love the symphonies of the great Finnish composer through Sir John Barbirolli's interpretations, much underrated nowadays, I'm afraid. And now it will be most plausible that when I want to return to the Sibelian masterpieces I will yearn for Sir Colin Davis's new set of versions, because they own such an incontestable value of undisputed renewal and strongly personal design - about the same way as Leonard Bernstein's Mahler symphonies are incomparable.
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. What a delightful and glorious symphony it is!
The Kullervo Symphony at last: a consummate interpretation of the symphony Sibelius wished to deport into oblivion. What a shame to this solemn and grandiose work it had been, if succeeded, is effacaciously proved by Sir Colin and his London Symphony Orchestra, by brilliant soloists like Monica Groop (mezzo) and Peter Mattei (baritone), and finally by the London Symphony Chorus, singing in grave Finnish, as if thay had done nothing else in their previous choral activities.
So why hesitate? Take your time and listen och relisten, until you are captivated by the magic and the mysteries of the splendid interpretations of this box. It belongs to the category of "eternal companions".