SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
* SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2; Pohjola’s Daughter – London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live
Published on July 25, 2007
Sibelius’ most popular symphony has received herein a performance and recording that will be difficult to surpass, in spite of the many competing versions. The work’s popularity must be due at least partially to its generally sunny demeanor, color and light – in contrast to the more dour Northern moods of much of Sibelius’ music. And that probably resulted from the composer’s sojourn in Italy, recovering from the death of his young daughter the year before. The myths of the Finnish Kalevala are not explored in this work – it’s a purely symphonic statement, though highly personal.
Though the first movement is most Nordically cool of them all, it still has the catchy main theme which has become one of Sibelius’ “greatest hits” – so much so that it showed up on a CD of “Hooked On the Classics” themes which I was suprised to hear at my water aerobics class last week!
Opening the disc with the quarter-hour-length Pohjola’s Daughter is an appropriate move in that the work can be regarded as a very compact one-movement symphony – something like the composer’s Seventh. Except that it does have a story – Kalevala-derived. Sibelius viewed it as his own Hero’s Life, but the wizard-hero of the tale loses in the end his effort to seduce the daughter of the moon-god. The extremely subtle and quiet chamber music writing in much of the score is more clearly heard and appreciated than on most standard-res recordings of the work. These quiet sections contrast dramatically with the tremendous orchestral climaxes – which are dissipated by the end of the work, which concludes softly and mysteriously.
I had on hand two of the previous SACD versions of the Second Symphony. The Telarc effort features the Cincinnati Symphony conducted by Paavo Järvi and its filler is the Tubin Symphony No. 5. Its sonics are up to the usual Telarc high standards and the performance is more brash and forward-sounding than the other two SACDs. Second in line was the London Philharmonic conducted by Paavo Berglund on a LPO live 4.0-channel SACD, paired with the composer’s Seventh Symphony. It proved somewhat richer in the orchestral spread/soundstage, and was a more laid-back interpretation than the LSO disc. LSO Live achieved the richest orchestral tapestry of sound and sonic spread across the soundstage. Davis brings out an electric and intense feeling, more dramatic by far than either of the other two SACDs. It’s also a full 5.1 mix on the multichannel layer – unusual for classical SACDs (which are normally 5.0), but perhaps the reason for the superior sonics. Honors to engineers James Mallison and Jonathan Stokes for their efforts. Not so long ago it was taken for granted that live recordings made some compromises in fidelity in exchange for the increased excitement provided by the live venue situation; that is no longer the case.
– John Sunier