Sibelius: Symphony No. 5; Karelia Suite; Pohjola’s Daughter; The Bard

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LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Karelia Suite; Pohjola’s Daughter; The Bard
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-85822-2
Who from the vantage point of the Fourth Symphony could have predicted something as different as the Fifth? Now that its original 1915 version is in the public domain we know something of the struggles Sibelius had, though the diaries and correspondence show the extraordinary changes it underwent after that. He even toyed with the notion of dropping the last two movements altogether. As the recent disc of the Second and Fourth symphonies showed, Sakari Oramo is a Sibelian of sound instinct. He conveys the awe and majesty of its opening paragraphs to perfection as well as the sense of mystery of the development. In fact this is all highly impressive, though I have to say that in the scherzo section he is more than a fraction headlong. Tempi can, of course, strike you as too fast one day and seem perfectly acceptable the next, but on returning to the performance I found my responses unchanged. The slow movement and finale are very well paced and the Birmingham orchestra gives him excellent support. Of the remaining works Pohjola’s Daughter is taut and highly charged; The Bard, one of Sibelius’s most concentrated and profound utterances, is wonderfully atmospheric, and finds Oramo attentive to both the letter and spirit of this masterpiece. It is arguably the finest Bard ever recorded – including Beecham. The recording is quite simply state-of-the-art – spacious, well defined and transparent. But for the Symphony, Colin Davis, Rattle and the Philharmonia, Osmo Vänskä and Karajan remain ultimately more satisfying. Robert Layton