It’s always a pleasure to find a new release which fails to generate much interest upon opening the package because it’s such an over-recorded work, but turns out to be such a glorious performance/recording that the work sounds fresh and exciting once again. That’s the story with this Sibelius Second. I have a prerecorded tape of it by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra which I would be happy to stay with the rest of my life or until the oxide starts to flake off, but it’s only two channel and hissy. This new effort is recorded live in London’s Royal Festival Hall and in four-channel sound (their engineers don’t fuss with the center channel). It fully involves the listener in the powerful performance, in a soundfield that puts one right in the hall.
Berglund is the perfect choice to conduct these works. He presented the world premiere of the Kullervo Symphony and has recorded three complete cycles of all the Sibelius symphonies. He has championed the composer throughout his long career. Although the symphony has great impact and power, it is more relaxed and cheerier than much of Sibelius, not putting the listener in the middle of a cold and bleak Nordic night as do some of the works. Some lovely melodies almost bring Tchaikovsky to mind. The Second has an extended Scherzo which was inspired by the one in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The Finale has a broad lamenting theme which may have been elicited by the death of his sister-in-law, who had taken her own life.
The short Seventh Symphony is in one continuous movement which flows smoothly from one section to another, revealing Sibelius as a master of the art of transition. He achieves a unique sound readily identifiable as Sibelius, but without using unusual musical devices or tricks. Vaughan Williams said that Sibelius could make even a C Major chord sound totally his own. And that is exactly the way the Seventh Symphony concludes.
– John Sunier