SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 – Symphony Orchestra and NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski – Cala

by | Oct 5, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39; Symphony No. 2 in
D Major, Op. 43 – Symphony Orchestra and NBC Symphony Orchestra (Op.
43)/ Leopold Stokowski

Cala CACD0541  76:25 ****:

Another in the splendid series of collaborations between the Leopold
Stokowski Society  and Cala Records, here reissuing the July, 1950
E Minor Symphony and the September, 1954 D Major Symphony in superior
sonic remasterings by Paschal Byrne. The uncredited Symphony Orchestra
in the E Minor Symphony is the New York Philharmonic, and the 
playing is consistently elegant (with one flubbed note in the string
pizzicati in the first movement, maybe a bad tape splice). The
interplay of strings, flute, and harp has a forward presence quite
beguiling. Later, the winds, tympani, battery, strings and harp become
even more prominent. The Nordic elements, including the episodic
revelations of savagery, are all there. The heroic melancholy manages
to triumph over what Virgil Thomson, in one of his more unfortunate
turns of phrase, called Sibelius’ “parochialism” of style. 
Stokowski achieves some wonderful attacks in the New York strings for
the Scherzo and its transition to the Andante’s quasi-fantasia finale.

The combination of tenderness and protean power is even more lavish in
the D Major Symphony, whose performance under Stokowski waxes poetic
rather than Herculean in the Koussevitzky mode. The oboe part, so vital
to both the opening Allegretto and the trio if the hectic Vivacissimo,
is finely wrought. The admixture of  colors, along with the
startling approach to sonata-form, make for a most compelling first
movement. The pantheistic lines of the Tempo Andante weave or erupt in
their turn, with the composer’s seeming to ask his woodwinds to play
the scope for a bardic evocation of Man’s confrontation with primal
Nature.  Certainly, the epic Finale–Allegro moderato has
nobility, power, and girth, but exerting human and lyric rather than
superhuman dimensions. Given the recording dates of September 15-23,
1954, I wonder if this performance were not a sort of Stokowski Viking
Funeral or testament in homage to Toscanini, who had just retired that year
and whose orchestra rose in magnificent splendor to realize this fine

–Gary Lemco

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