Sibelius: Karelia Suite (CD review)

Also, The Oceanides; Finlandia; Valse triste; Tapiola; Nightride & Sunrise. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra. RCA 09026-68770-2. 

To cap his complete Sibelius symphony cycle, the late Sir Colin Davis gave us big, sweeping interpretations of some of the composer's most-famous tone poems. And RCA provided audio to match. The warmhearted readings are born of years of experience and maturity, and while they may not provide the utmost in excitement, they do conjure up fairly appropriate images and feelings. 

Frankly, however, none of the interpretations individually would be among my absolute first-choice recommendations, though collectively they make a decent-enough package. The Karelia Suite is more regal and more stately than one usually hears it, but I prefer Sir John Barbirolli's more incisive rendering (EMI). The Oceanides is flavorsome, but it's hard when listening to it not to think of Sir Thomas Beecham's celebrated recording (EMI), and Davis again ends up second best.

Sir Colin Davis
Finlandia comes off grandly, filled with imposing gestures, yet it, too, lags one step behind Vladimir Ashkenazy's more overtly dramatic realization (Decca). And so it goes. Probably the best performance on the disc is the concluding one, Nightride & Sunrise, which Davis fills with all the moody contrasts this dark, woodsy, naturalistic piece demands.

Producer Michael Bremner and engineer Tony Faulkner recorded the music between 1992 and 1998. The resultant sonics are of the warm, weighty variety, sometimes billowy yet overall subdued. The sound nicely complements Davis's broadly relaxed style in the poems, but comparisons to the aforementioned Barbirolli or Ashkenazy make the new disc sound distinctly soft and bland. Turning up the volume doesn't hurt. I also found myself wishing for greater orchestral depth, although the sound is not unlike the ambiance of many large concert halls.

Interestingly, RCA recorded the six pieces on the program in three different locations, yet they sound remarkably alike. Let me just say that if your stereo system tends even slightly toward the hard or strident, the compensating factors of this new collection will suit your needs pretty well.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa