SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 – NWDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Pristine Audio PASC186, 44:07 (choice of MP3 or FLAC downloads in XR-remastered or ambient stereo, or custom physical CD-Rs) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The name of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-1973) seldom arises in Sibelius contexts, but Pristine revivifies a Capitol LP (18009; produced by John Culshaw) that contains a beautifully sensitive reading of the D Major Symphony from 1956. The response from the North German strings, horns, and woodwinds proves articulate and eminently stylistic, with the conductor’s calling up the Scandinavian ethos embedded in the wind-blown “topography” of the score. The fugal episode in the first movement contains a feverish, grinding tension, the sonata-form itself twisted to suit Sibelius’ emotional urgency. The devotion to space may take precedence over interior drama for its own sake, but the results leave us astounded by the breadth of the reading, certainly on a par with the classic conceptions by Kajanus, Koussevitzky, and Beecham.
The second movement will charm and disarm auditors, with Schmidt-Isserstedt’s detailed care in the cello and bass pizzicati, which avoids open strings. As the music gains momentum, it does not lose the natural warmth in the strings, but even gains in acerbic drive from the cellos and violas and the whiplash virtuosity of the timpanist. A natural hymn emanates out of the Finnish soil, a transcendental orison of molded power, intimate, mystical. If we find some dramatic reticence in the opening Allegretto, the Vivacissimo third movement holds no such reservations, a thrilling ride in hues of tremulous acceleration. Alternately, the lyric interlude with oboe, strings, and horns emanates a wistful nostalgia for an irretrievable innocence. Schmidt-Isserstedt graduates the hefty transition to the extensive final movement, the so-called “chorale of independence” for those who project political connotations into the often imperious writing of the Allegro moderato. Schmidt-Isserstedt incorporates an expanded timpani part–adopted from Koussevitzky–for the finale that never became an authorized emendation but still proves immensely effective. Conductor Schmidt-Isserstedt has managed to fuse the grandly–even grandiloquently–epic aspects of the score with a devoutly personal statement of spiritual beatitude, a splendid account that will provide some of the best Sibelius we will audition in 2009. Kudos to Andrew Rose for a masterly restoration.