Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 in E flat; En saga (original versions)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in E flat; En saga (original versions)
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-800 DDD
A first listen to Vol. 38 in BIS’s complete Sibelius series is a disorientating experience. Both the Fifth Symphony and En saga were premiered in the forms heard here, but Sibelius reworked both substantially for publication. The Ur-Fifth lacks the wonderful merger of the original first and second movements and unfamiliar things happen all over the place in both works. While this disc would on the surface seem merely an academic exercise, the dedicated, glowing performances from the Lahti SO and Vänskä bring rewards of their own as well as renewed admiration for the power of Sibelius’s technique and musical imagination.

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The third instalment of Jansons’s cycle (with a pairing putting it into direct rivalry with Colin Davis’s RCA disc, reviewed in March 1995) brings a vigorous, bracing account of No. 3, full of fresh air and delectable orchestral detail. In No. 5, Jansons is more volatile than Davis: he opts for sudden changes of gear in the second half of the first movement, rather than the imperceptible acceleration marked (and which Davis achieves) and in the later movements attention is drawn to individual details more than the grand span of music. There is plenty to enjoy here, though Rattle’s CBSO account (EMI) is still the choice in this work, with Davis close behind. Matthew Rye