A just-released SWR Classic 3 CD set features recently re-mastered studio recordings made in the late 1950’s for Deutsche Grammophon of Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 2, 4 and 5 and, as a bonus filler, Three Songs for Bass and Orchestra nicely sung by the late Finnish bass-baritone Kim Borg. It features the Südwestfunkorchester Baden-Baden conducted by Hans Rosbaud.
Right after the success of Finlandia, Jan Sibelius was lucky to find a patron who sponsored the still young Finnish composer to get away from the snows and months-long winter darkness of Finland by setting him up in a villa in Rapallo, Italy, where he completed his second symphony in less than a year. Sunny Italy did the usually sullen Finn a lot of good as can be discerned from the generally positive tone of the work’s first movement and the triumphant tone of its final D major Allegro.
Of his symphony Sibelius said: “My second symphony is a confession of the soul” even though some of posterity’s critics were harshly dismissive of the work, with the New York Herald Tribune’s Virgil Thomson lashing out at the Finn by describing the work as “”vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description.” It is doubtful that Sibelius got a copy of Thomson’s snarky commentary, but he still lobbed one at his American nemesis and all those like him when he wrote: “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”
The SWR Classic recording also includes the Symphony No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 63 and the Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 82, neither of which attained the popularity of the composer’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op.43 and both of which in one way or another reflect the conflicted personality of a flawed man and erratic artist who after life-long struggles with alcohol and other personal demons fell into a thirty year silence that ended with his death.
Hans Rosbaud’s conducting does not compare well to the many recordings of this music with younger and more contemporary maestros making Sibelius’ music vibrate with excitement. If you are looking for faithful adherence to the abundant indications set down by Sibelius then this recording is for you. If you absolutely love the music of Jan Sibelius, then this recording is for you. If you are the type of collector who loves to compare recordings of the same music interpreted by different artists, then this recording is for you.
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