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Sibelius Symphonies

post #1 of 233
Thread Starter 
I was wondering who here loves Sibelius' symphonies (I do) and which performances and recordings you like? I've got a few cycles, I'll post my impressions a bit later when I'm not at work, but I'd like to know what everyone else has and likes.
post #2 of 233
I love the symphonies, but haven't been bowled over too much by many performances I've heard. One I recommend is the sixth with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under Gibson. Very pure, well proportioned, suits the symphony perfectly I think.
post #3 of 233
I actually got a few more sets recently, here is what I have in my permanent collection:

Ashkenazy/London Doubles Sym 1-7
This is what all the critics recommend but to tell the truth it is only a little above average and over rated once you hear some good stuff. There is drama and exciting contrast when reqiured, but overall performance doesn't quite reach the top level of others. Modern sound is very good.

Davis/Phillips Duo Sym 1,2,4,5
Too polished and smooth, a bit booring actually. I hear newer Davis/RCA/LSO just released is better set but have not heard yet. Too many other better performances to really recommend these.

Maazel/London Sym 1-7
You really haven't heard the power and excitement Sibelius can project if you haven't heard these versions. These recordings are very detailed and have tremendous dynamic range, Maazel leaves nothing on the table and makes almost any other version seem timid and reserved. Later symphonies not quite as good as early ones, but best set overall for me.

Kamu & Karajan/DG Trio Sym 1-7
Kamu does 1,2,3 and Karajan does 4,5,6,7. I mention this set because of the Kamu performances.......the Karajan 4-7 are the same famous ones that receive a rosette in Penguin Guide, but I am not a fan of Karajan's DG Sibelius but love his EMI symphonies.
Kamu gives very exciting and sweeping performances of 1-3 better than most of the name conductors, the sound is a bit hot and does not have the bloom of best recordings however.

Jarvi/BIS Sym 1,2
Jarvi strikes a good balance between romantic sweep and powerful drama in these works, better than highly rated Ashkenazy for instance, and BIS sound is excellent. Somewhat hard to find now but solid performances.

Jansons/EMI Sym 1
This one has it all: great modern sound, exciting, romantic sweep etc. Other symphonies by Jansons in this series are not quite as good, so just get sym 1 and move on.

Barbirolli/Chesky Sym 2
There are several Barbirolli 2nds out there, but this is the one. his other versions are pale imitations and Chesky sound is very good, very solid.

Karajan/EMI Sym 1,4,6
I mentioned before I am not thrilled by Karajan's DG Sibelius, too smooth and polished with all the life sucked out...muzak versions. His EMI is completely different beast, you would never guess this is Karajan.....full of vigor and powerful romantic sweep, in a word excellent. Unfortunately you will have very hard time finding this version currently
(there is a 2CD Karajan/EMI set currently with Sym 1,4,5,6)
post #4 of 233
Jarvi/BIS and Ashkenazy/London here. Bought long ago.

DA sums it up well. The Sibelius got me started collecting Jarvi's recordings, and that led me BIS and Scandinavian music in general. A very rewarding journey.

post #5 of 233
Thread Starter 
OK, time for me to post some impressions. In my collection I have currently (full sets only):

Davis/Boston Symphony
Davis/London Symphony

What prompted this thread in the first place was that DA's recommendation for Maazel (which I bought), helped me to finally "get" sibelius. You see, I'd never really ranked Sibelius as a first rate composer. Sure he had his moments but just was not interesting to me the way other composers were. Not exciting or really engaging. Listening through my sets and it all "clicked" in to place for me. Not an uncommon occurance, as I find many times when a composer as a unique voice or style, it may take me a while to connect with it.

So, given that, I'll proceed with synapse reviews of each set and you'll be able to see my preferences as they go along. I WILL say that each conductor seems to perform the music in a way that seems to reflect who they thought the biggest influence was on Sibelius.

I'll start with Maazel, since it was the most recent and was the catalyst:

Maazel - very much conducts sibelius like Mahler. Very episodic and "german" for lack of a better word. This is warm and hearty, but IMO goes totally against the true voice of Sibelius

Ashkenazy - much more russian and sounding like tchaikovsky. Far to ardent and emphatic.

Davis/LSO - He seems to catch some of the bleakness and loneliness of the music here, but the orchestra seems to not "get it". The orchestral colors are far too rich and sensuous for Sibelius, almost sounds like Richard Strauss.

Vanska - ah, here is someone who understands sibelius at last. The sound is almost colorless, the performances bleak and desolate, but interestingly enough they are presented at a fairly quick pace, almost matter-of-factly, like a man who is so used to dissapointment that he just accepts it and gets on with it.

Davis/BSO - IMO the earlier set just nails it. Bleak and colorless, the strings are a morass that the brass and winds try to punctuate occasionaly but just get dragged back down in to the bleak landscape. This set is an ode to a noble soul forced in to colorless bleak depression by outside forces. Certainly my pick of the bunch for best performance.
post #6 of 233
I'd like to get to know these better! I've been through my Davis/BSO complete set a few times (including some tone poems). The first two and the fifth are very Tchaikovsky-like. My favorite is the 4th. 7 and 8 are also very interesting. I guess I'm also attracted to the bleaker more "northern" ones.

Karajan is OK in the lusher symphonies. I've heard only a couple of the Ashkenazies on the radio--they seemed OK. In my experience, the elder Maazel is very reliable in a wide range of repetoire. I head his #2 on the radio and liked it.

I've got an old recording of the Kullervo that I cleaned a couple of weeks ago and hope to listen to next weekend!
post #7 of 233
Now the Eighth would be interesting.

post #8 of 233
Originally Posted by CSMR
Now the Eighth would be interesting.


Ooops! I meant 6/7 not 7/8. Supposedly there was an 8th, but JS burned it.
post #9 of 233
I am particularly interested in hearing budget recommendations for Sibelius. I had a couple of old Naxos discs conducted by Leaper, and they seemed competent if rather perfunctory. The newer Naxos cycle is supposed to be a little better, I think. Can I assume that Davis/Philips and Maazel are both priced in the "budget" category?
post #10 of 233
As you can tell by my list I much prefer the early Sibelius symphonies. The first three are full of vitality optimism and romantic sweep, the 4th is a transitional work and 5-7 are much darker bleaker affairs which don't interest me much.

Maazel set is pretty cheap especially if purchased used:
post #11 of 233
Thread Starter 
Hi DA,
Funny, I'm not so enamored with the 1st or 2nd symphonies, but the 3rd through 7th I like a lot, particularly because they are bleak and desolate. That would probably explain our different tastes in cycles

That said, I did want to make another observation about why I like the early Davis cycle so much (this isn't a rebuttal to your preferences, just a refinement to the reasons for my preference). In the early Davis, there is a sense of stasis, of a "hovering" of things. With others, there is a sense of the music "going somewhere", of development and movement. With Davis it is almost like you are standing still, and Sibelius is building a scandinavian landscape around you. With others I get more of a sense of the symphonies being treated in a traditional germanic or russian symphonic develpment. With Davis I get more of a sense of nature-building via symphony. Hope that makes some kind of sense....

Anyway, I'm glad this is a place where taste and preferences can be discussed and not lead to squabbles and attacks (unlike some places!!).

The Sakari cycle is OK, but certainly doesn't hold a candle to Davis at budget price. Even the Davis on RCA is better and it just came out in a budget box. I would put both of these cycles above the Maazel and the Ashkenazy (both are also at budget price), as neither one "gets" Sibelius quite like Davis does.
post #12 of 233
The only complete set in my collection to date is the Ashkenazy, which - as has been rightly stated before - indeed leaves much to be desired. As so often with Ashkenazy (as a conductor), he tends to defuse the music by creating an emotionally rather overdone picture of blured contours.
Davis did a wonderful, indeed almost congenial 1st with the LSO and I'm also very fond of some of Jansons' recordings with the Oslo Phil (2nd, 3rd, 5th).
Some of Järvi's recordings with the Gothenburg Symphony aren't bad either (I quite like his take on Tapiola).
If I'm tempted by another full set though, it would be Oramo with Birmingham (remarkable 2nd & 4th).
Berglund's more chamber musical approach sounds fascinating as well (4th & 6th).
Haven't heard anything of the Sakari cycle yet, but I know of some who do rate this quite highly (especially the 4th & 5th). Might be worth a try.
post #13 of 233
Originally Posted by Tyson
Hi DA,
Anyway, I'm glad this is a place where taste and preferences can be discussed and not lead to squabbles and attacks (unlike some places!!).
Indeed, this is trully a rare thing on the internet, where opinions are engraved in stone and is blasphemy to rebel against.

Now I need to dig out the Sibelius CDs I have....damnit...
post #14 of 233
I don't think we've heard from any of our Finnish members yet!

What about other Sibelius? His string quartets make for good listening, though they are early works. I have a Glenn Gould recording of some solo piano music which didn't impress me very much--neither melodic nor atmospheric to my (admittedly tinny) ears.
post #15 of 233
Wow, I am super impressed by DarkAngel's collection.
Here is what I have: Ormandy/Philadelphia/Sony Sym 2&7
I am not particularly thrilled by this recording. Cannot really recommend it to anyone. I will look into Maazel or Ashkenzay's discs based on the suggestion above.
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