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Sibelius: Symphony No 5, En Saga, Swan of Tuonela, Valse Triste / Schmidt, RPO

Sibelius / Rpo / Schmidt
Release Date: 05/10/2011 
Label:  Royal Philharmonic Masterworks   Catalog #: 28910   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ole Schmidt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

One of my most memorable experiences as an orchestral musician was playing Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony under Ole Schmidt in 1987, in his first appearance with the Toledo Symphony. Schmidt, who died in 2010 at the age of 81, was the real deal, a conductor who knew what he wanted and had an exemplary stick technique to help him get it. The concert made such an impression on the musicians, the audience, and the orchestra management alike that Schmidt was almost immediately offered the position of music director; not wishing to take so much time away from his composing activities, he declined, but did agree to serve as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor.

These Sibelius recordings show the same clear conception of the
Read more music and, just as important, the ability to get top-flight musicians to realize that conception along with him. In the Fifth Symphony, Schmidt rethinks interpretive conventions to produce a highly individual yet compelling account. The opening section, with its prominent woodwind passages played more legato than usual, has a great deal of rhythmic clarity; the 3/4 second part of the movement (marked Allegro moderato) is taken at an extraordinarily fast tempo, yet inner-voice details are unusually clear. The ending is exciting as hell.

The second movement—the only variation movement in Sibelius’s mature music—is also taken at a quick tempo, but each of the variations is given its own character. In the finale, the winds are again more prominent than usual. The movement is rhythmically rock-solid; the closing chords, characteristically, are taken precisely in tempo.

Particularly in its first movement, this is about as fast a performance of the Fifth as I know; the timing, under 29 minutes, makes it the shortest of the 30 recordings I’ve heard since Lorin Maazel’s 1966 Vienna Philharmonic version. It’s too idiosyncratic to be a first-choice Fifth, but it’s compelling in its own way.

Schmidt’s treatment of En Saga is equally individual. The opening section is very deliberate, and Sibelius’s tempo markings are meticulously followed; voicings are carefully balanced so that we hear details that normally are buried. Ironically, playing exactly what’s written in this instance produces a very fresh-sounding interpretation.

The remaining two items, both Sibelius chestnuts, are less interesting. In The Swan of Tuonela, spot-miking makes the English horn sound unrealistically large, and even pppp harp notes are clearly audible over the strings. The Valse triste starts exceptionally slowly, then abruptly shifts gears and becomes almost jaunty at Figure C (the repeated-note string tune). While it’s completely characteristic for Schmidt to have a new take on the piece, this one doesn’t really work.

This CD is apparently a reissue of a five-year-old (or older?) recording on the Regis label; it may also be identical to an SACD available on Amazon. The RPO markets this disc as part of its “Audiophile Collection,” but while the sound is pleasingly lifelike in the symphony and En Saga, it is by no means remarkable. Recommended to those curious about a different point of view on these two works.

-- Richard A. Kaplan, FANFARE [11/2011] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 5 in E flat major, Op. 82 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ole Schmidt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1915/1919; Finland 
Length: 29 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2.
En saga, Op. 9 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ole Schmidt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892/1902; Finland 
Length: 17 Minutes 54 Secs. 
3.
Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22: no 3, Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ole Schmidt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893-1897; Finland 
Length: 8 Minutes 21 Secs. 
4.
Kuolema: Valse triste, Op. 44 no 1 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ole Schmidt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1904; Finland 
Length: 5 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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