Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite; Pohjola’s Daughter; The Bard

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Lemminkäinen Suite; Pohjola’s Daughter; The Bard
PERFORMER: LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 68945 2
Colin Davis is one of the finest living Sibelians; few have explored this composer’s spiritual landscape with such understanding and authority or are so totally attuned to his sensibility. But though he has recorded the symphonies twice, this is his very first recording of the four legends of the Lemminkäinen Suite and of The Bard, and every bit as impressive as you would expect. The first Legend is marvellously paced and one feels, as with any great conductor, that there is always something left in reserve. At almost 12 minutes Davis’s Swan of Tuonela is more ruminative than ever: his Boston version was just over nine. The sense of menace in Lemminkäinen in Tuonela is very striking: yes, it is far too slow, but enormously atmospheric. In Lemminkäinen’s Return, Davis is not as headlong as Beecham or Vänskä. Perhaps his Lemminkäinen is too cultured a chap by comparison: their hero is altogether rougher and in a desperate hurry.

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The Bard is magical, every bit as mysterious and inward-looking as the recent CBSO set under Oramo. Davis recorded Pohjola’s Daughter with the Boston Symphony Orchestra way back in 1981, though it was never transferred to CD. They actually differ by only a few seconds, yet this newcomer feels even slower: it has vision and a sense of mystery. I feel very much at home with these performances, though I appreciate that they will be too measured for many collectors. As couplings, Vänskä offers the earlier 1896 versions of the first and fourth Lemminkäinen movements and the alternative 1897 ending of the fourth, and Mikko Franck on Ondine has En saga. (I do wish someone would reissue Jensen’s pioneering Decca set.) Here Mike Hatch produces exceptionally fine recorded sound. Robert Layton