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Sibelius BIS & Naxos

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Beecham

Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63: The Bard – Tone Poem, Op. 64: En Saga Op 9: Scenes historiques, Op. 25, No. 3: Lemminkainen’s Legends, Op. 22: Finlandia – Symphonic Poem, Op. 26: Scenes historiques, Op. 25, No. 3

Naxos Historical: 8.110867 [79 mins, recordings 1935-39]

Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä

The Oceanides; The Oceanides - Yale ms version; The Oceanides - orchestral fragments;Cassazione - first version; Musik zu einer Scène;
Coronation Cantata;
Morceau romantique sur un motif de M. Jacob de Julin in C sharp minor; March of the People of Pori (Porilaisten marssi)
Cortège; Spring Song

Bis BISCD1445 [69 mins, recordings 2000-2002]

These two generously filled and splendidly documented CDs bring a lifetime of Sibelius listening full circle. Revered when I was young as the greatest of early 20 C composers (Cecil Gray etc), my earliest familiarity with his music was from the 78s of Kajanus (Symphony No 5, with the amazing rests at the end that as a child I played again and again) and later Beecham's recordings. Then a degree of eclipse after Sibelius's death, as is so common; now a huge revival of interest and appreciation.

I have listened with enormous pleasure to all the shorter works on this Naxos Historical CD but postponed hearing the symphony again. As I write this I have begun listening (after some fifty years) to the sound of the cello rising from the depths to launch the austere Symphony No 4, followed soon by the thrilling brass crescendi; the exact sound of this recording (Beecham's interpretation delighted the composer) lives indelibly printed on my memory, and comes up on Mark Obert-Thorn's transfer via my XP computer and "Harman Kardon Speakers with Subwoofer", sounding even more wonderful than I remember it on wind-up gramophones - the years roll back!

No more needs to be said; save up your £5 (or dollar equivalent) and buy it. As a bonus you get much else, the lovely, rarely heard The Bard, and some of the most popular of the tone poems. But the symphony you will want to play again and again. This is the real thing.

And serendipitously received in the same week, the completion of Osmo Vanska's series for BIS, a company which doesn't stint on a good idea; this is Volume 51 of their Complete Sibelius.

The definitive version of The Oceanides apart (another Beecham favourite, ignored by most concert programmers) these are all world premieres. Far from being a collection of oddments, this is an important and vastly enjoyable collection of works which will be mainly unfamiliar, some of them minor, but all with the composer's true and instantly recognisable stamp.

We have only recently come to appreciate that every published score is a statement of its moment, and that earlier (or later) versions of familiar mastepieces are fully worthy of attention. Now we have those of Symphony No 5 and the violin concerto available for study and these three workings of material which became The Oceanides is a lesson for which we must be grateful.

Treat yourself to the two CDs in tandem and share revelations.


© Peter Grahame Woolf