Sibelius Symphony No. 2
Tubin Symphony No. 5
Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Review by Karl Lozier
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SACD Number: Telarc Hybrid SACD 60585
Jean Sibelius was born in Finland in 1865. To help you place him chronologically, Richard Strauss was born a year later, Scriabin seven years later and Stravinsky in 1882. Compared to these contemporaries and others composing in the early nineteen hundreds, Sibelius turned out to be the most conservative of them all. Though he built on earlier German and Austrian musical backgrounds and was obviously greatly influenced by Brahms, whom he had met,
Sibelius' music is easily recognized as his own. This becomes even more apparent after his second symphony.
Musicologists may not agree on many things, but as I interpret them or their thinking as a group, they are seldom impressed by any composer's first symphony. Brahm's first symphony is usually regarded as the best ever first effort. Sibelius is usually placed in a small group of composers in the second tier by composing a first symphony that is a "fairly good one". The second symphony, featured on this recording can hold its own and then some compared against almost all of the second symphonies ever written in my not so humble opinion. It has been his most famous and best loved symphony if not his best. By far his most famous and beloved composition is his nationalistic tone-poem masterpiece,
Finlandia. Look for that composition in your church hymnal; I have seen three different hymns written for his
Finlandia! His second symphony is very easy to appreciate and love. It usually does not take many hearings to accept it completely and with anticipation. Its easily won popularity has in the past couple of decades seen detractors complaining that it is too obviously written to appeal to the masses. They also note that conductors are over emphasizing its frankly immediately appealing passages rather than "simply letting the music speak for itself". I would like to share the following sentences as written by famed musicologist R. D. Darrell in his book
Good Listening*. "Few novices at least can, or perhaps should, deny themselves puppy-love affairs with (among a few others) Sibelius's Second Symphony. Anyone who has grown to musical maturity without having such crushes certainly is to be pitied". I will state it another way - I agree whole-heartedly with Mr. Darrell and recommend Sibelius's Second Symphony for your probable listening pleasure.
Jarvi seems to take an introspective approach in this fine recording. Nothing seems to be over emphasized. Do not translate my preceding two sentences as meaning anything else. The reading of the symphony is fine; Jarvi is not trying to interpret it. I seem to recall an electrifying recorded performance from long, long ago by Serge
Koussevitsky. More recent recordings that I brought with me when I changed residences a few years ago do add a bit more "drive and pure excitement" as evidenced in the last movement. Those two recordings are a special Japanese remastering and pressing on Phillips X-7696 featuring Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony (beware the jacket notes require literacy in Japanese) and Pierre Monteux (one of my favorite conductors) leading the London Symphony recorded in England on a famous RCA shaded dog LP
LSC 2342. Audibly both these recordings hold up extremely well in most respects and the performances are both powerful and exciting for those who like it that way.
Literally while writing this review I received notice that this Telarc recording has received an award from the first annual Surround Sound Conference 2002. This is a fine recording, as is becoming more and more common from Telarc of late. No obvious over emphasis and both the horns and winds are given their due presence. Bass is solid and extended and the top end almost sweet and smooth as you are likely to hear. Highly recommend in all respects.
The accompanying Symphony No. 5 by Estonian composer Eduard Tubin and written soon after he moved to Sweden (1946) is treated equally well. The composition though is a bit more solemn or somber than Sibelius's Second Symphony. His style, in this symphony at least, can be described as neoclassical. It features some particularly well-recorded tympani passages in two of the movements, which reminded me of some similar passages for tympani in the extroverted first movement of Sibelius's First Symphony. Tubin's ten symphonies are virtually unknown in the United States. I believe Jarvi has previously recorded all of them for the BIS label with various European symphony orchestras. Consider it a giveaway introduction of Eduard Tubin's music with your wise purchase of Telarc's fine recording of Sibelius's Second Symphony.
*Good Listening by Robert D. Darrell
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.