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on 21 February 2013
I ordered this half expecting to end up feeling like a gullible mug (as has sometimes been the case in the past when, swayed by gushing Amazon reviews I've splurged on yet another box set of familiar repertoire.) On the basis of 2, 3, 5 and 6 I already feel I got more than my money's worth - they are terrific in every respect. If the quality holds for 4 and 7, then yes, this truly is the bargain of the year. Everything is right here: transparency and exquisite delicacy in the ensemble passages; perfect timing and huge, gorgeous, enveloping sound in the dramatic climaxes; and those beguiling Sibelius timbres rendered perfectly throughout. The Bournemouth players acquit themselves here with real distinction, and they are not let down by the sound engineers. Sibelius simply doesn't come better than this - at any price.
PS I have now listened to 7: wow, wow and wow. The structural lynchpin of this one-movement work is a glorious hymn-like theme that first emerges, blazing and golden, on solo trombone at 5'17". Berglund handles its two subsequent appearances amazingly, achieving real power and menace at 10'51" (love those dark, rumbling, wave-like chromatic ascents and descents on the cellos and basses!) and a breathtakingly beautiful aural sunrise at 17'47". (The trick in the latter is the clarity and deliberateness with which he builds up, layer by layer, the accompanying repeating six-crotchet figure in the strings until it comes to the fore with searing intensity.) After such extremes, the sense of serene - or should I say exhausted - valedictory repose in the theme's final statement at 20'09" is all the more deeply felt: this has been a real journey. It's the most urgent, dramatic reading of Sibelius 7 I've ever heard, and the Bournemouth players pull it off brilliantly. A must-hear, and one to come back to again and again.
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on 12 February 2014
Five hours of Sibelius, 14 great works including 7 symphonies, a range of approaches to the natural world, one of the world's greatest conductors - Paavo Berglund. There are two movements from the jovial Karelia Suite. There is the melancholy inner grace of one of the Lemminkainen Legends depicting the Swan of Tuonela with lovely cor anglais playing. Then there is the powerful patriotism of Finlandia and two movements from the King Christian Suite. The mighty and magnificent symphonies numbered one and two are given powerful advocacy by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra playing in the fine acoustic of the Southampton Guildhall. Sibelius, money-earning, Valse Triste is revealed in its tender terrible beauty. The third and fouth symphonies are shown in riveting detail. In the tone poem The Bard, antiquity, and folk memory are tended by great solo harp and some reflective string playing. As with Beethoven, the fith and sixth symphonies are appealing for different reasons. No 5 is full throated and filled with tension and crescendos and climaxes. No. 6 is gentle and lyrical and pastoral. Sibelius related it to snow.
Finally there is the fusion of movements into one in a wonderful performance of the 7th Symphony. And relating to the forests of Finland there is the lengthy tone poem - Tapiola. It is a fitting conclusion to a momentous 4 CD box. This is delight.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 10 October 2017
The following summary review provides an overview of the three versions of Berglund’s survey of the Sibelius symphonies and other works where included. They are all the latest masters at the time of the review (2017).

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The Bournemouth set was the first and was originally recorded from 1972-1982 with most being in the late 1970’s. The Helsinki set followed recorded in 1984-87. The final set with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was recorded from 1996-8 and is both the most expensive and supplied without fill-ups All three sets are expertly played by their respective orchestras and faithfully follow Berglund’s direction at that time. All three sets are well recorded so purchasers may choose any without regard to recorded quality which should give complete satisfaction.

There are clear differences of interpretational intent as Berglund developed his ideas over some 20 years. Essentially the Bournemouth set is consistently the slowest, the Helsinki set the fastest and the COE set somewhere in the middle. Conductors only revisit recordings if they feel that there is more to say or if they are otherwise dissatisfied with earlier attempts. Collectors have found much to praise in each of these sets all of which are impressive leaders in their field. Enthusiasts will find that the three sets are all worth purchasing as there is little interpretive duplication with only the 7th symphony being practically identical in each set. All the other works have different emphases to savour and consider. They all convince in different ways.

Broadly speaking the Bournemouth set gains from preponderantly slower tempi with its resultant breadth and weight accompanied by a clear feeling of both spontaneity AND joy clearly transmitted by the orchestra. The double climax in the Oceanides in Bournemouth is not matched in Helsinki for example where markedly faster tempi in that work, as in the symphonies and other works, leads to an increase of forward drive and drama but at the slight cost of the breadth and weight of Bournemouth. The drive towards drama negates the less pressed sense of joy found in Bournemouth. Both of these sets provide a full orchestral textural pallet and for this reason there are plenty of collectors who would choose either of these sets as being by very nature, more in line with the thought processes of the composer. The COE set is, for that reason, the most controversial of the three.

Thus, by way of contrast to the two previous sets of full orchestra recordings, Berglund continued with his quest for further clarity in his final set with the COE. This chamber ensemble however, is no ordinary chamber group having a reduced string section that SOUNDS much bigger than it is in reality. The rest of the players, woodwind, brass and percussion, remain the same in all orchestras. The result is undoubtedly one where listeners will hear more textural detail with much of the breadth of the Bournemouth set retained. Nevertheless despite the power of the strings there is still a change in the orchestral balance that allows more of the solo detail of the woodwind and brass to be heard – and Sibelius wrote much for solo woodwind especially and set this against the massed strings. There is even a return to the personal level of engagement so obvious in Bournemouth and missing in Helsinki. In many ways therefore, this could be considered the best of both opposite worlds. The bite of the chamber orchestra also challenges the drive of the Helsinki set. The significant problems for collectors are the cost, the lack of additional smaller works and the difficulty in obtaining the set.

This is therefore a case of ‘You pays your money and you takes your choice’ to quote a well-worn phrase. All three sets offer equal pegging in musical and recording values and a persuasive case can be made for owning all three as here! Collectors are really spoiled for ultimate choice between these three fine versions.
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on 19 December 2015
I confess that I bought this set largely because of the amazingly low price but I have been surprised and delighted with the performances. Berglund brings a grandeur to the music which I really like. Is it too fanciful to say it sounds as if it has been carved out of ice? There is also a good selection of tone poems to make the set even better value. if you want to celebrate the Sibelius anniversary on a budget, this is the set for which to go.
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on 13 October 2014
I've only just started listening to this set. I shall join those who rave about it.

I guess one way, perhaps, to reach a critical and comparative response to a set of Sibelius' symphonies is to listen to one substantial movement. I'be been listening to how the orchestra and the conductor treat the final movement of the second. It seems to me beyond praise. It is beautifully constructed, balanced, and amazingly clear in all its levels of sound, so that the noble theme moves steadily and inexorably towards its end. It doesn't swagger, it doesn't plod, it seems inevitable and "right." It resounds most movingly and thrillingly.

Each listener will apply his/her own touchstones - some reviewers use the 7th. I shall listen to it next.

This set is ridiculously good value.
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on 26 April 2017
The performances and the recording quality are superb, just a pity that we only get the first and third movements from the Karelia Suite with the second movement being inexplicably, and in my opinion inexcusably, missing.
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on 23 October 2015
I do not need to enlarge on the merits of these performances, which I have known and loved for many years.
Just read the other reviews if you need to be convinced. But I do need to add a word about the excellence of these startling new re-masterings. It is as though an old master had been cleaned and presented anew. Don't hesitate to acquire this set!
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on 5 November 2015
These are terrific performances that perfectly capture Sibelius`s unique soundscape , which is so strongly linked to the nature , climate and folklore of Finland . Anthony Collins is perhaps even better in Symphony no.1 , but is recorded in mono .
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on 30 October 2015
I've loved the music for years, but the opportunity to acquire this set at the price was an opportunity not to be missed, and I think that, as a cycle, Berglund's first go (here) can't be beaten by anyone. This is music from the wild frontier.
Are there any hills as big as the one in the photo in Finland? Maybe in Lapland?
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on 25 April 2017
The fabric of a nation. Excellent.
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