Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 in E flat (1915 & 1919 versions)

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in E flat (1915 & 1919 versions)
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-863
Vänskä’s performance of the original four-movement version of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony was widely admired when first issued in 1996. Its reappearance alongside a new performance of the familiar, final form of the work – the third disc in his complete set of the symphonies – shows starkly the reasons for Sibelius’s doubts about the work at its premiere in 1915. By comparison with the final form, it is surprisingly raw: the orchestration is often fragile and there is a curious, very un-Sibelian lack of direction at times. Nevertheless, hearing the two versions consecutively provides a fascinating insight into the creative process.

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The 1915 reconstruction receives a performance here of real conviction; premature it may be, but the sense of cumulative power generated in the finale is breathtaking. The performance of the final version is marked by the same ardour and exhilarating blend of fidelity to the score heard in Vänskä’s previous recordings. I could have done with more impetus in the first half of the opening movement, but the clarity of line and the infectious sense of discovery place this performance in the highest category. Jan Smaczny