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Sibelius: Symphony No 2, Karelia Suite, Finlandia / Mackerras

Sibelius / Royal Philharmonic Orch / Mackerras
Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Royal Philharmonic Masterworks   Catalog #: 28920   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2. Karelia Suite. Finlandia Charles Mackerras, cond; Royal PO ROYAL PHILHARMONIC MASTERWORKS RPM 28920 (66:56)

This entry in the RPO’s “Audiophile Collection” was evidently first issued in 2005 as an SACD, in which form it is still available in England. As with other releases in this series, it is unclear what makes the recording “audiophile,” although the sound is quite decent.

Sir Charles Mackerras, who died in 2010, did not record a lot Read more of Sibelius; there is another version of the Second Symphony with the London Symphony, and a Royal Philharmonic CD featuring the Fifth. This reading of the Second reminds me of Eugene Ormandy’s 1957 version for Columbia/Sony, and that’s high praise indeed. Both conductors choose ideal tempos—somewhat brisk by current standards—and let the music unfold flexibly but without a lot of pushing and pulling. Of course, Mackerras gets better recorded sound than Ormandy, but Ormandy has the Philadelphia Orchestra, with its unmatched string section and lovely wind solos.

Two textual notes for fastidious listeners: The RPO’s principal clarinetist plays the wrong note in the Finale that must be a misprint in British editions (see my article on the Sibelius symphonies in Fanfare 30:3); and, Mackerras uses the altered timpani part at the end first found, I believe, in Serge Koussevitzky’s 1935 recording.

The two chestnuts that serve as fillers are similarly fine, with effective—and loud—climaxes, and no surprises. The bass drum is dynamite in the Karelia Suite , but the tambourine in the Intermezzo lacks presence. Finlandia is appropriately stirring; but, really, who needs another version of Finlandia?

It’s hard to recommend yet another Sibelius Second with all the top-notch versions already out there—Ormandy, Monteux, Szell, Davis (Philips), Ashkenazy, and Blomstedt, to name just a half-dozen—but this CD might be for you if you’re looking for a budget version, or for these particular fillers, or are a Mackerras fan. It certainly does honor to his memory.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan

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Sibelius is not a composer I would immediately associate with Charles Mackerras, although, curiously enough, he has recorded the Second Symphony before. On the strength of this wonderfully detailed new recording, Mackerras can lay claim to being a Sibelian of distinction. His performance makes this familiar work seem vibrantly new: scrupulous attention to the letter of the score and a flair for the dramatic produce a reading which is a joy to the mind as well as the heart. Each phrase and dynamic marking is in place, and yet there is never a sense of the performance being pedantic or overly cautious. The result, particularly in the last two movements, is revelatory. At times the Scherzo has an almost vicious bite, and the finale projects a craggy grandeur which refuses to descend to bombast. Indeed, this is one of the most exciting recordings I have heard of this movement. Complementing Mackerras’s integrity with the composer’s intentions is a recording which allows every instrumental shade to emerge in full glory. The two accompanying lollipops – familiar, too, from a host of other discs – have a comparable freshness. These performances could well turn into a standard recommendation.

Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Finland 
Length: 42 Minutes 20 Secs. 
2. Karelia Suite, Op. 11 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Finland 
Length: 15 Minutes 23 Secs. 
3. Finlandia, Op. 26 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Finland 
Length: 8 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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