SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 7

Published on May 10, 2005

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 7
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 7 – London Symphony
OrchestraSir Colin Davis (rec. live at Barbican Center, London) – LSO
multichannel SACD LS00552, 53:44 ****:

Following on the success of other major orchestras launching their own
record labels, the London Symphony followed suit in 2000 and their 25
CDs so far have resulted in their becoming one of the major classical
labels in the world. Most of the recordings are made live in the
concert hall during public performance for the utmost energy and
excitement. Now the LSO is beginning to release multichannel SACD
versions of their catalog, which has all been recorded multichannel.
One of the first was the Brahms Third Symphony, and here we have two of
the Sibelius seven symphonies. In his Second Symphony the Finnish
composer began to experiment with musical form – trying to depart from
the standard symphonic strictures. In the Third Symphony and the rest
of his symphonies the composer realized new ways of structuring the
long works. He began in the Third by reacting against what he felt were
the vast, overstuffed symphonic excesses of Mahler, Strauss and
Scriabin – by creating a study in economy. His orchestra is smaller,
the symphony is shorter, and the treatment of the main themes in the 11
1/2-minute first movement is concise and not drawn out unreasonably.
The middle movement is a slowish dance with any instrumental color best
described as shades of grey. The final movement is a type of scherzo in
which speed is the essence. A strong theme is treated in a manner
evocative of the composer’s Night Ride and Sunrise.

The last symphony of Sibelius dates from 1924 and is in a single
continuous 23-minute movement. The composer compared its symphonic form
to the formation of a river bed, where there are many tributaries,
brooks and streams, and eventually it majestically broadens into the
sea. Flowing musical ideas determine the structure of the symphony,
rather than adherance to symphonic tradition. Teachers of music theory
regard the work as one of the major achievements of 20th-century
symphonic composition. The listener is carried like a log floating on
the river thru a series of contrasting tempi, timbres and temperaments,
ending in a hard-won C Major key. I feel that Bernstein derived more
drama and excitement out of these “condensed symphonies” in his set of
the seven, but that’s personal taste, and this SACD certainly has the
edge in glorious hi-res surround sound.

- John Sunier

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