This set includes one of the great interpretations of the Sibelius symphonies, together with what may well be the ugliest performance of the violin concerto ever committed to disc. Curious combination!
This is a seminal set of these works. If you want windswept forestscapes and lakes, then go for Berglund or Segerstam; high drama, Rozhdestvensky; mythic romantic narrative,Barbirolli, Ashkenazy or Ormandy; but if you want to reach deep into the dark heart of the Sibelian imagination, delved into and explored with utter intellectual rigour, uncompromising passionate engagement and a truly revelatory spiritual journey, then these have never been surpassed. Nor are they likely to be, even by Davis himself whose quest to perfect and refine his interpretaion has produced two further cycles with the LSO. Both are utterly superb cycles, but neither have the edge and improvisatory relish of this set, which has a sense of discovery and freshness that the later, perhaps wiser, but less spontaneous readings cannot replicate. Also, the LSO, though masterly, just can't match the fervour and aplomb of the Boston players with their scintillating strings, lucid woodwind and sonorous brass, underpinned by a percussion section whose dynamism is without parallel. As a result, the symphonies emerge with a cogency and compacted energy that even these terse works do not quite possess elsewhere, however idiomatic and exciting those performances may be. Indeed, I would suggest that whatever favourite readings you may possess (and I have many) it essential to supplement them with these truly historic accounts, which receive the best recording of any of the Davis versions.
This 5 cd set deserves its 5 stars - the performances from Sir Colin and the Boston SO are very good indeed. With all 7 symphonies getting superb playing ( I've yet to hear a more powerful final chord in the 7th) plus the best tone poems and a decent violin concerto from Accardo you can't go wrong. A fantastic set of Sibelius works. The reviewer who gave it one star just because some humouresques are missing is mad - I've never heard them and don't miss them. No need to denigrate the whole set because of some minor inconsiquential omissions. Recommended!
Personally I think Davis the finest conductor of Sibelius better than - Barbirolli or Vanska whom I also like very much. BBC record review rated his BSO recording of the third symphony as the best .Overall I think this cycle is his best, so even if you have either of his later LSO cycles this is well worth having as well, especially at this price.
It is good to have Davis's Boston recordings as well as his later LSO discs. As in any such sets, some performances stand out: the fourth here is very fine as is the third. The delicacy combined with power also make the sixth exceptional. Only the seventh seems unsure, failing to move inevitably to its equivocal end. The violin concerto here is a lovely recording with Salvatore Accardo.