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SACD Review

Jean Sibelius

Quadraphonic Sibelius

  • Symphony #5 in E Flat Major, Op. 82
  • Symphony #7 in C Major, Op. 105
  • En Saga, Op. 9
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
Pentatone SACD PTC5186177
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This is a remastering of symphonies originally recorded by Philips in 1975 in quadraphonic sound. They were part of a cycle, which if I recall correctly, received generally positive reviews. I do, however, remember a few grumbles from certain quarters, probably relating to Davis' generally more relaxed tempos. En Saga was taped by the same label in 1980 and issued separately. Those few critics and listeners who might not have warmed up to Sir Colin's epic (they would say bloated) way with Sibelius back then probably found his later cycle of symphonies for RCA in the 1990s, with the London Symphony Orchestra, more to their liking. For one thing, Davis' approach changed a bit: he shaved nearly three minutes off the Fifth and seemed to scale things down in general. But to me the later effort didn't quite match this older one. Normally, I like faster tempos in most works, but here Davis makes a fine case for his epic approach.

The climax at the mid-point of the first movement, when triumphant brass chords resolve the tension then give way to faster tempos and a sense of joy, never sounded so powerful and so convincing. Yes, Davis' tempos may be a bit controversial, but he deftly captures the epic character of the work and draws fine playing from the excellent Boston players. Ditto in the Seventh, a work in which Davis chose more standard tempos. Bernstein on DG had one of the slowest versions of the work I've ever encountered, but his was the best of the several I've heard. Davis' rendition is also a good one, though some may prefer Segerstam on Chandos or Inkinen on Naxos, both worthy competitors in all symphonies in their Sibelius cycles. En Saga is also given an excellent performance by Davis. In any event, this well-remastered effort from Pentatone features fine sound in all works and thoroughly convincing performances.

Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings