- Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39
- Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
- Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43
- Tapiola, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 112
- Valse Triste, for orchestra (from Kuolema), Op. 44/1
- Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op. 52
- Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104
- Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
- Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82
Decca has been releasing cycles of the symphonies of Sibelius about once a decade since the introduction of the long playing record. In the '50s, there was the stern-faced Anthony Collins with the lean London Symphony Orchestra. In the '60s, there was the baby-faced Lorin Maazel with the lush Vienna Philharmonic. In the '80s, there was the craggy-faced Vladimir Ashkenazy with the powerful Philharmonia Orchestra. In the '90s, there was the poker-faced Herbert Blomstedt with the colorful San Francisco Symphony. Each cycle has its advocates. Those who like their whiskey neat tend toward the Collins/LSO. Those who like their martinis dry incline in the direction of the Maazel/VPO. Those who like their vodka ice cold and 110 proof prefer the Ashkenazy/PO. And those who like herb tea with warm milk go for the Blomstedt/SFS. In 2006, with four cycles to choose from for re-release, Decca gave the nod to the Blomstedt/SFS. Although a skillful and experienced conductor, Blomstedt's interpretations too often paper over the rough edges and smooth over the raw power of Sibelius' gnomic and gnarly symphonies. Where the "First" calls for grand tragedy, Blomstedt opts for a dull ache. Where the "Second" calls for epic heroism, Blomstedt opts for relaxed lyricism. Where the "Third" calls for pastoral mystery, Blomstedt opts for classical clarity. Where the "Fourth" calls for abysmal declivities, Blomstedt opts for cool lucidities. Where the "Fifth" calls for ineluctable inevitability, Blomstedt opts for unperturbed tranquility. Where the "Sixth" calls for luminous evanescence, Blomstedt opts for simply clean lines. And where the "Seventh" calls for transcendental magnificence, Blomstedt opts for merely clear grace. Fine as far as they go, other conductors have gone much further into the glorious and fuliginous music of Sibelius than Blomstedt does -- among them Collins, Maazel, and Ashkenazy. Decca's digital sound is warm, rounded, and full, but not, in the final analysis, big enough for the scale of the music.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sibelius: The Symphonies based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Caveats first: I've only heard the Fourth and Fifth from this cycle, and I won't comment on the Fourth because I don't really understand the piece. That said, the Fifth here is frankly awful -- a disservice to one of the towering achievements in all of music. I came away wondering if they rehearsed at all before recording. The SFSO is usually a terrific band, but here the players don't match articulations or note lengths -- listen for example to the different winds in the opening bars, or the "wgwgwg" of the violas at the start of the finale versus the "tktktk" of the violins that follow. Rhythms are glossy and indistinct, and some of Sibelius's accents are totally missing. The result is that Sibelius's incisive gestures become gelatinous and his crystalline textures opaque. Listen to the playing of the Philharmonia with Ashkenazy and there's just no comparison. Blomstedt's tempos are passable mostly, but the Andante mosso is rushed and lacks charm, and the ending of the symphony, which should be both exhilerating and devastating, instead induces a shrug of the shoulders. I think the Ashkenazy is still available as two separate "2fer" issues, with some tone poems thrown in. If you like your Sibelius more sedate, there's Davis & Boston on Philips, also as 2fers. Spend the extra five bucks.
The Music Guide reviewer described Blomstedt's interpretations of the vaious symphonies as having "relaxed lyricism," "classical clarity," "cool lucidities," "unperturbed tranquility," "clean lines," and "clear grace." Surprisingly, he uses these descriptors as suggesting they are a bad thing. These adjectives are accurate in describing Blomstedt's Sibelius. First and foremost, San Francisco's performances under him are extremely precise. To add to this, their sound is warm and expansive. As a general rule, Blomstedt seems to avoid pushing the orchestra beyond the point to which it plays cleanly, beautifully, and musically. I fear that other reviewers sometimes mistake sloppiness for passion--and in this case, few listeners will find much passion in Blomstedt. He understands Sibelius intimiately, and delivers it in unadultrated form.