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Sibelius: Finlandia, Tapiola, En Saga, Karelia Suite
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These recordings date from the early and mid-1980's, shortly after Ashkenazy shed his role as a world class concert pianist and assumed the mantle of conductor, a transformation he has acquitted with such success that any initial skepticism has long since disappeared. The sound from this period is open, full and rich, with marvelous balance.
Penguin continues to include these performances as one of their 'recommended' recordings, saying that 'Ashkenazy by temperament brings out the expressive warmth, colour and drama of the composer rather than his Scandinavian chill, reflecting perhaps his Slavonic background", going on to say that the recordings "are full and rich as well as brilliant, most of them still of demonstration quality. A rich and strong, consistently enjoyable cycle". Penguin concludes that they are their top alternative recommendation, following the cycle from Colin Davis (Sir Colin Davis conducts Sibelius - a great bargain to be sure, 7 CD's with all of the symphonic works).
These performances were originally released by Decca on individual CD's such as the one listed here on Amazon. Decca has subsequently, as they are wont to do, re-issued these various performances in a couple of different forms, so anyone interested in these recordings will be well served by also checking the following product listings on Amazon:
Original Decca single-CD releases of Sibelius performances by Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra:
- Sibelius: Symphony 1 / Karelia Suite -- recorded in 1984 (symphony) and 1985 (suite)
- Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 -- recorded in 1979
- Sibelius: Symphonies 3 & 6 -- recorded in 1984 (3) and 1984 (6)
- Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 / Finlandia / Lounnotar -- recorded in 1980
- Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, En Saga -- recorded in 1980 (5) and 1981 (En Saga)
- Sibelius: Symphony No. 7, Tapiola -- recorded in 1982
- Sibelius: Finlandia / Karelia Suite -- containing the same performances of Finlandia, Karelia Suite, Tapiola and En Saga as were included in the above symphony releases (product on this page)
note that all of these above CD's continue to be available on Amazon from third-party sellers, used and sometimes new, and frequently for very attractive prices (as used discs).
Decca re-issued as 2-CD "Decca Doubles", of the above recordings:
- Sibelius: Symphonies 1, 2 & 4 and including Finlandia and Karelia Suite
- Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5, 6 & 7 and including En Saga and Tapiola
note that these two 2-CD releases together duplicate all of the material originally released in six individual CD's, with the only omission being the tone poem Lounnotar.
Decca also released still another 2-CD package, this time including the orchestral tone poems from the above releases as disc 1, with the second disc including other Sibelius recordings by Horst Stein conducting the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande:
- Sibelius: 'Finlandia' (suites & symphonic poems) ** (see comments below for the link to this recording)
Finally, Decca has packaged all of the Ashkenazy/Philharmonia recordings together into a 5-CD box set:
- Symphonies / Tone Poems ** (see comments below for the link to this recording)
Depending upon pricing of these various releases, it is possible to obtain the Ashkenazy performances of some or all of the symphonies and tone poems for very reasonable pricing, particularly if willing to consider the used market on Amazon.
These are all excellent recordings and worth serious consideration, along with the Colin Davis box set referred to earlier in this review.
(note: since Amazon limits reviews to include a maximum of 10 links, I've included a comment below this review to provide additional links that could not be incorporated in the main text of the review here)