You win some, you lose some. This one is regrettably a loser, although that's no fault of ICA Classics. I understand wanting to release Rosbaud conducting Sibelius well enough; he was a fine advocate for the composer at a time where those were few and far between. And his DG recordings in Berlin show him to be a persuasive, if not definitive interpreter of the Finnish master's work. But frankly, in 1954, the Cologne Radio forces were not up to snuff (to be fair, the Berlin Philharmonic in 1954 was occasionally pretty awful). All of this is a long way of saying that this Sibelius 6th, despite receiving its first release and having some value in that fashion, is just not especially worth hearing.
The playing isn't horrific – winds especially are good – but elsewhere the intonation is questionable all around. This isn't helped by unusually slow tempos that are markedly more dragging that in any other performance I currently own. An 11-minute first movement fails to take wing at the start and stays dead. Solo winds cannot a great performance make, and combined with bad string playing, nothing really goes anywhere. The second movement features some painfully unhappy sounds, and more to the point fails to be an allegretto. Blomstedt on Decca is actually 26 seconds slower, but sounds infinitely more flowing and natural. The rest of the performance is more of the same; in a twist of irony, the strings sound better in the finale, while the winds lose their sheen. Not a fun performance.
You might wonder why you'd Sibelius symphony coupled with 40 minutes of Debussy, and if you figure it out, email me. This seems to be one of those "He was German, but he wasn't a Nazi and liked other music." moments, something reinforced by the silly insert notes. I yield to no one in my dislike of the Nazis, but I think that in 2013 we can stop exalting Germans who conducted different kinds of music. However good they were at defying the Party, and that is beyond admirable, they generally didn't do anything special musically, and that is what is currently in question. So we have 40 minutes of surprisingly decent French music, certainly better than the surprisingly bad Sibelius. Whoever would want a middling performance of Jeux? But I'm editorializing; if you're in the market for a disc that boils down to "surprisingly half decent", your ship has come in. If you do invest, the mono sound is very clear.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman