Classical Reissue Reviews
SIBELIUS: En Saga, Op. 9; Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49; Oceanides, Op. 73; Tapiola, Op. 112; ALVEN: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 19 “Midsommarvaka” – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Audio
Published on December 27, 2009
SIBELIUS: En Saga, Op. 9; Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49; Oceanides, Op. 73; Tapiola, Op. 112; ALVEN: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 19 “Midsommarvaka” – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Pristine Audio mono PASC 205, 65:58 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The 1955 Sibelius inscriptions by Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) and the Philadelphia Orchestra from CBS (ML 5249) enjoyed great prestige among audiophiles in their day, and their present restoration by Mark Obert-Thorn reminds us of what these Northern sound-pictures gain from the royal treatment. The cool, even frigidly epic demeanor of the 1892 En Saga (10 March 1955) retains its grand craggy character, the instrumental choirs, especially in the basses and low woodwinds quite defined. When Ormandy cuts loose, presto – the sheer virtuosity of the playing becomes quite Dionysian without having become frenetic or inaccurate. The horn punctuations from the Philadelphia brass have rarely achieved the might they have here, only a step away from Stravinsky’s demands in Le Sacre du Printemps.
The 1906 tone poem from the Kalevala, Pohjola’s Daughter, offers even more diverse coloration, from the very outset, when the hero Vainamoinen encounters derision from the “beautiful daughter of the North,” who doubts that he can fulfill the heroic tasks required to win her devotion. The Philadelphia harpist enjoys a substantial part, played against any number of timbre combination from the woodwinds, like two bassoons and contrabassoon, piccolo, and three trombones. Much of the ferocious passagework relates to the D Major Symphony’s own exalted ethos. The manic ostinati may well represent the vexation of spirit the hero suffers in the midst of his travails. The 1914 Oceanides consistently defies easy translation into memorable performances, since its evocation of feminine water-spirits, by way of Debussy harmony and touches relating to the Seventh Symphony, remains deliberately hazy and shimmering effective. If ever Sibelius could sound like Delius, this piece offers such a moment.
Tapiola, Op. 112 (1926) often qualifies as Sibelius’ last completed orchestral work of any major consequence. Ostensibly, it portrays the wood-demon Tapio, but the tragic vision in the piece may grant it an allegorical character, as a lament for Man’s loss of his primeval contact with Nature. Ormandy, like Beecham and Karajan, has a great affinity for this original harmonic world, whose chromatic theme undergoes melodic variation and displacements in meter and rhythm. The greatest performance I know occurred in my presence, in Syracuse, New York, the Syracuse Symphony under Eleazar de Carvalho. Somewhat like Debussy’s Jeux, a rondo-form seems built into this elusive tapestry, powerfully projected by Ormandy’s Philadelphians.
The 1953 inscription of Hugo Alfven’s 1903 Swedish Rhapsody (from CBS Ml 5181) marks one of Ormandy’s most spirited renditions of a popular classic. Clarinet and English horn , along with pizzicato strings and rollicking brass, support a Midsummer revel, not far away from Mussorgsky’s Bare Mountain. Some day Pristine may restore with equal vigor the successful all-Victor Herbert CBS album which Ormandy recorded.