Symphonies: Nos. 1–7.
. Valse triste. Finlandia. The Swan of Tuonela. King Christian II:
The Bard. Tapiola
Paavo Berglund, cond; Bournemouth SO
EMI 9736002 (4 CDs: 308:46)
Here’s a welcome reissue of Paavo Berglund’s first Sibelius symphony cycle. Recorded between 1972 and 1978, this set was first issued by HMV on single LPs, one symphony per disc, with a generous selection of Sibelius’s other orchestral works as fillers; later on, the symphonies plus
were collected into an eight-LP box. If my old
s are accurate, only the First and Fifth were ever issued in the U.S., by Angel. There was a previous CD issue on the Royal Classics label, apparently now defunct, but I believe this is the first time these recordings have been issued on CD by EMI.
Berglund’s Bournemouth cycle, the first of his three, is in many ways the most successful; certainly it’s the most conventional. In the 1980s he recorded a set with the Helsinki Philharmonic that was far more streamlined and less big-boned, featuring more rapid tempos throughout. In his final cycle, done a decade later with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, he seemed to aim most for clarity and transparency, to the benefit of the lightly scored Fourth and Sixth, but lacking body and weight in the bigger scores.
Such is not the case in the Bournemouth First and Second: The former is muscular, yet still highly detailed; the latter is a traditionally romantic reading, with a relaxed opening but becoming more urgent as the first movement progresses. The finale is notably energetic, its sound enriched by prominent horns. The Third benefits from a wonderfully full and transparent recording; the tempos are well chosen and the climaxes of the outer movements are most effective. The Fourth is a performance of extremes, the first and third movements very slow, the finale a true
. EMI’s sound is particularly fine, with a wide dynamic range contributing to the impact. The Fifth and Sixth are perhaps a bit low-voltage (more of an issue in the former than the latter), and the Seventh is a middle-of-the-road reading.
With two symphonies per disc, the set is generous with fillers, mostly on the fourth CD along with the Seventh Symphony. Notable are the broad
, far better than Berglund’s preposterously fast Helsinki version, and the sober and contemplative
. The two movements of the
King Christian II
Suite are very fine, making the absence of the rest of the suite frustrating. The whole thing can be had, however, on an inexpensive EMI Gemini set, along with a generous selection of Sibelius’s tone poems and incidental music; a second Gemini set includes the indispensable
At prices as low as about $2.00 per symphony, this set is even more economical than the recently reissued Colin Davis/Boston Symphony box on Decca. If you’re in the market for an inexpensive, well-played and conducted Sibelius symphony set in 1970s audiophile sound, this is an unbeatable buy.
Richard A. Kaplan