Ashkenazy: Sibelius - The Symphonies, Tone Poems, Violin Concerto (5 CD, FLAC)
Ashkenazy: Sibelius – The Symphonies, Tone Poems, Violin Concerto (5 CD, FLAC)

Composer: Jean Sibelius
Performer: Boris Belkin, Elisabeth Soderstorm
Orchestra: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Vladimir Ashkenazy
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 5
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Umvd Labels
Size: 1.47 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

CD 1
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39
1. I. Andante, ma non troppo – Allegro energico
2. II. Andante (ma non troppo lento)
3. III. Scherzo (Allegro)
4. IV. Finale (Quasi una fantasia)
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63
5. I. Tempo molto moderato, quasi adagio
6. II. Allegro molto vivace
7. III. Il tempo largo
8. IV. Allegro

CD 2
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43
1. I. Allegretto – Poco allegro – Tranquillo, ma poco a poco ravvivando il tempo al allegro
2. II. Tempo andante, ma rubato – Andante sostenuto
3. III. Vivacissimo – Lento e suave – Largamente
4. IV. Finale (Allegro moderato)
5. Finlandia, Op.26
Karelia Suite, Op.11
6. I. Intermezzo (Moderato)
7. II. Ballade (Tempo di menuetto)
8. III. Alla marcia (Moderato)

CD 3
Symphony No.3 in C, Op.52
1. I. Allegro moderato
2. II. Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto
3. III. Moderato – Allegro (ma non tanto)
Symphony No.6 in D minor, Op.104
4. I. Allegro molto moderato
5. II. Allegretto moderato
6. III. Poco vivace
7. IV. Allegro molto
8. Tapiola, Op.112

CD 4
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82
1. I. Tempo molto moderato – Largamente – Allegro modera- to
2. II. Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
3. III. Allegro molto
4. Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105
5. En Saga, Op.9

CD 5
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
1. I. Allegro moderato
2. II. Adagio di molto
3. III. Allegro, ma non tanto
Two Serious Melodies, Op.77
4. I. Laetare anima mea, Op.77a
5. II. Devotion, Op.77b
6. Serenade No.1 for Violin & Orchestra, Op.69, No.1 – Andante assai
7. Serenade No.2 for Violin & Orchestra, Op.69, No.2 – Lento assai
8. Romance in C, Op.42
9. Valse triste, Op.44
10. Luonnotar, Op.70

A Distinctive Sibelius Cycle
Reviewed in the United States on February 23, 2009
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Ashkenazy’s Sibelius cycle was one of his early successes as a conductor, and as such helped to launch what has latterly become a distinguished “second career.” Decca/Universal have now collected together all of Ashkenazy’s Sibelius recordings–including the Seven Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, some of the better-known tone poems, and four shorter works with violin and orchestra (the latter particularly welcome given that they remain under-appreciated).

Ashkenazy’s approach to the composer is fresh-faced and vital, though not entirely idiomatic. What it lacks is that northern chill, that brooding sensibility, which some listeners would regard as a sine qua non of Sibelius interpretation. On the other hand, Ashkenazy effectively conveys the dramatic tensions of these works as well as their their bardic-heroic qualities. Moreover, the sumptuous playing of the Philharmonia, vividly captured by the Decca engineers, will draw you in regardless of any initial reservations.

Ashkenazy is at his best in the tone-poems and other short orchestral works (“En Saga” has rarely if ever been surpassed, and “Luonnatar” is not far behind; “Tapiola” is first-rate also, if not ideally chilling), and in Symphonies 1, 2, 3 and 7. Indeed Ashkenazy’s rendition of the elusive Third must join the short list of unqualifiedly successful versions (right up there, in my estimation with Kamu/Helsinki, though much better played, and Davis/BSO or LSO). Ashkenazy’s Fourth is as atmospheric as one could wish, yet in the final analysis doesn’t plumb its tragic depths as fully as Karajan (EMI or DG), Davis/BSO, or Maazel/VPO. For all its popularity, the Fifth is a difficult work to bring off–largely a question of getting the transitions and tempo relationships just right in the complex first movement. Ashkenazy brings a splendid lilt to the pastoral intermezzo which functions as the second movement and an appropriate grandeur to the finale, but that first movement just doesn’t quite cohere as seamlessly as it ought. Karajan/DG and Bernstein/Sony are preferable here. But I don’t want to dwell on the flaws in 4 and 5: there is far more to enjoy than to criticize. Probably the majority of listeners will be swept away by both performances. The one outright disappointment among the symphonies comes with the Sixth. This, too, is a difficult piece to get right, and in my listening experience only Davis, Järvi and Karajan have really cracked this toughest nut in the Sibelian canon. Ashkenazy gives an entirely pleasant, somewhat pastoral, reading–but in the end it is too emphatic of gesture and too plush of texture for a piece which, above all, needs to be trim and lithe.

The concertante works with violin are a very positive asset as well. Boris Belkin and Ashkenazy give one of the most soaring accounts of the overexposed Violin Concerto I have heard. Their incisive and atmospheric renditions of the under-appreciated shorter works for violin and orchestra are also impressive. Belkin’s technique may not be as immaculate as Heifetz, Oistrakh or Accardo (my current favorites in this repertoire), but he and Ashkenazy are more fully inside these works than most of the competition.

My verdict on this set is overall quite positive: Ashkenazy gives a distinctive take on the great Finnish master that may downplay some of the melancholy, but which manages to convey a compensatory spontaneity and sense of enjoyment throughout. Ashkenazy’s Sibelius is as colorful and sensuously alluring as Barbirolli’s, but not nearly as heavy of texture and emotionally overwrought. Whether you are new to Sibelius, or a veteran collector, do give this inexpensive set a try. For a more comprehensive “basic Sibelius library,” (excluding the concertante works, but including all of the important shorter orchestral pieces in addition to Tapiola and the Seven Symphonies), I would choose DG’s bargain box featuring Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Järvi’s interpretations are even more bracing than Ashkenazy’s and the Gothenburgers offer playing of stunning virtuosity.

3 Comments

  1. Just one of the many good things found here this morning! Thanks for your incredible energy and spirit.

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