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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sibelius, Symphony No. 2, Mariss Jansons, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

My love of the music of Sibelius began in college. It was happenstance that I did not get to him earlier but his symphonies struck a nerve with me after repeated hearings and I've never gone back. Colin Davis and Eugene Ormandy are the conductors who have most satisfied me, who to me got right the delicate balance between luminescence and orchestral power which Sibelius was so good at.

But one should be able to appreciate new versions of old favorites if they give you some new and worthy wrinkle on the music. That's happened just now with Mariss Jansons and the Symphonieorchester Bayerischen Rundfunks version of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 (BR Klassik 900144).

The second to me is Sibelius' first really original, his first great symphony. The first is a little too close to Tchaikovsky for comfort, though it is memorable and good to hear. The second gives us the blossoming of that incredibly lyrical melodicism and beautifully orchestrated way, plus that rather difficult-to-put-in-words "x" factor that marks him as special. "Finnish" is sometimes used to denote this, but it is more complex than simply a place-centered approach. He is simply one of a kind, neither modern in a typical sense nor derivative. There is a sort of neo-romantic, neo-impressionist wealth of theme and development in his best work that is ultra-singular.

So the second was the first symphony to show us his genius, undoubtedly. I've lived with a Colin Davis version on an old LP for years. Mariss Janssons gives us perhaps a more Beethovenesque, more robust version on the BR Klassik issue. And I'll admit I had to listen several times before I got used to it. But the wonderful audio quality and the sparkling performance of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in the end won the day for me.

Added to the program are the tone poems "Finlandia" and the "Karelia-Suite" that make this volume a very good introduction to Sibelius if you do not know him well. It also gives us a vivid performance of the second in a sort of thicker matrix than I am used to hearing. It is a rewarding disk for that and the fine sonics. Those who might be looking for a modern recording of the second will do well to try this one. I am in the end quite happy with it. Recommended!

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