Classical Reissue Reviews

Kajanus conducts SIBELIUS, Vol. 3 = Symphony No. 3 in C Major; Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major; Finnish Jaeger March – London Symphony Orch./ Helsinki Philharmonic Orch. (Op. 91)/ Robert Kajanus – Naxos Historical

Mark Obert-Thorn and Naxos complete the three-disc cycle of Sibelius as inscribed by his first great interpreter, Robert Kajanus.

Published on February 23, 2013

Kajanus conducts SIBELIUS, Vol. 3 = Symphony No. 3 in C Major; Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major; Finnish Jaeger March – London Symphony Orch./ Helsinki Philharmonic Orch. (Op. 91)/ Robert Kajanus – Naxos Historical

Kajanus conducts SIBELIUS, Volume 3 = Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Op. 52; Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82; Finnish Jaeger March, Op. 91, No. 1 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (Op. 91)/ Robert Kajanus – Naxos Historical 8.111395, 62:44 [Not distributed in the USA] ****:

Working with some of the quietest 78 rpms I’ve encountered in years, producer and recording engineer Mark Obert-Thorn delivers the last of his restorations of the Sibelius cycle bequeathed us by Robert Kajanus (1856-1933), leading the responsive, virtuosic LSO, 21-23 June 1932.  Considering the interpretative persuasion Kajanus exerts with the Third Symphony (1907), it becomes almost an unsolvable enigma why Herbert von Karajan in his own Sibelius cycles eschewed this potent economical work.  Despite any tendency the Third has to neo-Classicism, the thematic impetus of the music remains ardently compelling, as already proved by such masters on disc as Paul Kletzki, Kirill Kondrashin, and Sir John Barbirolli. Kajanus molds the germinal tissue of the four long and three short notes and creates a taut purposeful line that he controls through its gripping crescendo. The coda allows the tune to assume a chorale status of impressive energy

Most intriguing of the three movements, the Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto has Kajanus impose a stately measured tempo, ben marcato, upon the music that other conductors tend to take at a more rapid tempo, perhaps at the sacrifice of its intrinsic drama. Some have likened this noble music to the second movement of the Beethoven Seventh, except that the tone of the procession tends to be folk-induced rather than tragic on its terms. The subsequent Moderato movement serves as both scherzo and seamless bridge to the chorale of the last movement, a five-note pattern that assumes heroic proportions in its own right, especially after the histrionic of the D Major Symphony No. 2 finale. Kajanus enjoys elegant support from his strings, winds, and brass of the LSO, certainly idiomatically competent and even brilliant in this premier inscription of an under-rated masterpiece.

The Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius means to celebrate his fiftieth birthday; and originally, Sibelius conceived a four-movement work in 1915 which he revised in 1919 into its present shape, fusing the first two movements together. Sibelius claimed for the revision that “I wish to give my symphony another – more human – form. More down-to-earth, more vivid.” Even so, Sibelius turns to a consistent layering “stretto” effect in this work that produces a polyphonic, often thick texture that – as from a welter of human actions and turmoil – wishes to ascend to the mountain top like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra or painter Friedrich’s Wanderer to survey the ether far above “a sea of troubles.”  Kajanus builds the first movement along the lines of inner struggle and spiritual agon, the vernal and ontological aspects pitted against human furies and disquiet. At the end of the movement, Kajanus gives us a poignant sense of victory in a performance rivaled by few, but Celibidache’s leading the Danish Radio Orchestra would count among them.

The second movement, marked Andante mosso, quasi allegretto presents a theme and variations that does not conform to expectation, setting a five-note pulse rather than a singing tune. A vague chorale theme asserts itself melodically, but it devolves by way of pizzicati into a parody of the original pulse and fails to reach a decisive critical mass, like J. Alfred Prufrock’s abortive attempt to pose an “overwhelming question.”   The ensuing Allegro molto hardly proves more resolute, often raising the banner of heroism only to falter before rebuilding the self-assertive impulse in less resolute terms, the equivalent of a Pyrrhic Victory.  Insofar as the Fifth Symphony may reflect the most unhappy spirit of the times of 1914-1919, Sibelius may well ask “Wohin?” of Mankind, considering we appear no closer to a satisfying answer to that riddle. Kajanus organizes a fitful fever at the opening of the movement, a bustle of forces ready to assault the heavens. But even with the appearance of “hammer” chords from the LSO trumpets a decisive triumph peters out. This in no way diminishes the glories of the Kajanus sound, which soon became the envy of Koussevitzky in his own Sibelius excursions.  The LSO string bowing alone warrants a thesis on Kajanus’ mastery of the Sibelius sound. If Mahler could express “the hammer blows of Fate” in his Sixth Symphony, so too, could Sibelius lament the human condition in his six punctuations on human frailty.

The little jingoistic Finnish Jaeger March (rec. in Berlin 30 May 1928) means to commemorate in 1917 the Jaeger Battalion of the Imperial German Army en route to engage the Russians. At moments, the swaggering theme resembles “the Minstrel Boy,” except for Sibelius’ rhetorical theatrics. At the time of the recording, Kajanus was on tour with his hand-picked Helsinki ensemble, which he had founded and directed with authority for more than fifty years.

—Gary Lemco

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