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Sibelius: Symphonies 2 And 7 / Paavo Berglund, London Po

Release Date: 11/15/2005 
Label:  Lpo   Catalog #: 5   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Paavo Berglund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

R E V I E W S:

Paavo Berglund has three complete cycles of the Sibelius symphonies in his discography, which makes him arguably the most authoritative, and certainly among the most prolific, of current interpreters of music by his compatriot. While the cycle featuring the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Finlandia appears to have been deleted (for shame!), the complete series with the Helsinki Philharmonic on EMI, as well as a Second Symphony (and selected orchestral works) with the Bournemouth Symphony, also on EMI, are readily available. Berglund’s most obvious rival would be Sir Colin Davis, recently embarked on a new cycle of
Read more the symphonies himself, with two complete cycles already to his credit. Perhaps just as significant, both new symphony series are “in-house” productions, presented in first-class sound.

Berglund’s recorded performances of the Second Symphony have become more expansive over the years: 39:50 in 1986; 41:30 in 1997; and 43:43 in 2005, the most significant differential deriving from the first and second movements. Often this kind of accretion translates into sluggishness or pomposity, but not here: where before, especially in the 1986 performance, there seemed to be an undue sense of haste, the added time gives more weight to the progress of the first movement, altogether appropriately. In the second movement, the sense of menace at the beginning is heightened by the clean, clearly focused, and precise sound; the warm second theme is sunny and ingratiating.

The third movement is the one place that Mr. Berglund’s interpretation is almost unchanged, having gained just a few seconds over the years; its propulsive first theme is just as exciting, while the second theme is just as serene. The recorded sound is once again notable, as the winds are imbued with a particularly natural quality. The finale, which begins attacca and is masterfully prepared, indulges in unabashed romanticism, as boreal Tchaikovsky gives way to a whiff of Wagner in the minor-mode second theme. At midpoint, the “big theme” blares out majestically, as much in joy as in triumph. The sudden reappearance of the same theme after the protracted recapitulation of the darker second theme is triumphant indeed. Mr. Berglund shapes the performance flawlessly, and the audience responds warmly.

The performance of this symphony on Finlandia was recorded with a terrific sense of depth and presence, and is brilliantly played by the superb COE; this newer performance brings a greater sense of occasion and just that much more authority; I wouldn’t want to be without either. Since the Helsinki performance is only available in an EMI box, I can safely make this new performance my prime recommendation (at least until Sir Colin is heard from).

Berglund’s performance of the Seventh has gained about a minute in 20 years, but his interpretation has deepened in sensitivity and intensity; accents are sharper, but there is also added warmth. The progress from the adagio of the first section to the vivacissimo of the second is achieved with notable smoothness, yet never seems simply calculated—surely one of the keys to Sibelius is projecting that sense of organic development that is the composer’s hallmark. As with the recordings of the Second, the performance with the COE is a bit more detailed, and in this case, the sound is notably sharper. But the impact of the full-size LPO, and of the live recording, brings an added dimension of life and feeling to the music. Another indication of the conductor’s involvement, a perhaps less salutary one, is the remarkably audible outbursts from the maestro in the third section, beginning at the 5:21 mark of track 7. These will be either somewhat amusing or irritating. To me they were momentary distractions from a very effective—and affecting—performance, rather like the loud coughs that plague most live recordings. And at the end of this performance, the audience gives its own series of outbursts—entirely justified, in my opinion.

Though I doubt that this particular program has any advantages over other pairings, it does make for an unusual and instructive contrast; far more important, it is another chance to enjoy the work of a master interpreter. Recent Sibelius recordings offer an embarrassment of riches; their relative merits are complementary rather than competitive. With Sir Colin’s LSO cycle, Leif Segerstam in Helsinki on Ondine, and now the new Berglund series (I hope I’m not being presumptuous about that), we appear to be in the midst of a mini-renaissance of Sibelius—or is it, perhaps, a golden age?

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Paavo Berglund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Finland 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Live  Royal Festival Hall, London, England 
Symphony no 7 in C major, Op. 105 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Paavo Berglund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1924; Finland 
Date of Recording: 2005 
Venue:  Live  Royal Festival Hall, London, England 

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