Sibelius: Symphony No. 7, etc. (CD review)
I'm willing to bet that if you listened to it, you couldn't tell this recording was well over a half a century old. Recorded in 1955 (1955, imagine that!) the stereo sound comes up like new in this EMI "Great Performances of the Century" remastering. Sure, in quiet passages you can hear a bit of background noise, but during most of the music it disappears to the ear, and you never notice it. What you do hear is a solid, if not particularly deep, bass; a clear, natural midrange; some sparkling highs; and a fine sense of depth and spread to the orchestra. Remarkable, considering that this is one of the earliest stereo recordings EMI ever released for the home.
Anyway, it's the music that counts, and this is one of those albums that has stood the test of time to become a legitimate classic. Beecham came to Sibelius relatively late in his career, but once he found the music, he championed it evermore. The composer himself was later to say that he considered Beecham one of only two conductors he preferred doing his work (the other being Koussevitzky). These recordings explain why.
The disc lists the little Symphony No. 7 first on the album cover, and while it is quite fine, it's really the incidental music from Pelleas et Melisande that stands out. One hears delicacy, refinement, nuance, sweetness, and light throughout the piece as Beecham lovingly caresses each phrase. Following the eight movements of Pelleas (Beecham chose to leave out one movement) is the tone poem Oceanides, which the conductor frankly described as "that strange composition--very strange indeed." Yet I found it far from strange, at least in Beecham's hands, a beautiful evocation of the sea. After the little twenty-minute Seventh Symphony, things conclude with Sibelius's popular Tapiola, again among the best interpretations you'll find, delightfully, charmingly performed as only Beecham could manage it.
I might add in closing that if you own EMI's previous CD transfer, you might find this one slightly better balanced left to right, slightly fuller, and slightly smoother overall. At mid price, it's surely a must-buy.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.