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Sibelius: Complete Symphonies Box set

4.7 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Box set, January 22, 2013
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Editorial Reviews

EMI Classics releases an exclusive 4-CD collection honoring the career of Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund who died earlier this year at the age of 82. Best known for his interpretations of Jean Sibelius s symphonies, the set features all seven symphonies the core of Sibelius s complete works. This collection also contains a number of tone poems ranging from his early Karelia Suite to his final completed work, Tapiola, and is truly a magnificent introduction to this masterly composer. Berglund leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in these historical recordings that have been unearthed from the archives after a long period of not being available. Berglund studied the violin and by 15 had decided to make his career in music, gaining experience from playing and restaurants and dance orchestras. In 1949 he joined the first violin section of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He was greatly impressed by Furtwängler when he brought the Vienna Philharmonic to Helsinki and he was soon studying in Vienna where his friends in the orchestras allowed him access to rehearsals and recording sessions. He formed his own chamber orchestra in 1949 and co-founded the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra four years later. In 1955 he started his long association with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra first as Associate Conductor and then Chief Conductor. It was a series of Sibelius Centenary Concerts in 1965 that brought him to Bournemouth, becoming the principal conductor of the city s Symphony Orchestra in 1972 and over the next seven years made numerous recordings including the ones found in this collection.
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Paavo Berglund
  • Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • Audio CD (January 22, 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 4
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Warner Classics
  • ASIN: B0091JQH2Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,055 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a nice way to start out a new year. I knew of the esteem many Sibelius lovers had for this set, even in preference to Berglund's impressive digital re-dos with Helsinki in the 80's. Formidable as that set is, I understand now what the fuss is all about and think this Bournemouth set to be the more compelling experience overall. This is a younger ( early 40's) Berglund and a group of musicians that clearly are excited about making Sibelius happen. The cycle was the contractual windfall with EMI in the wake of their success with making the first recording of the Kullervo Symphony in 1970. That brilliant performance and their subsequent Sibelius renderings for EMI in the 8 years to follow, established Berglund's international stature as a major conductor.
Compared to the later Helsinki set, these are fresher, more emotionally engaged performances with an excitement factor missing in the later Helsinki performances - impressive performances though they are.
What surprises is how much more " personal " the interpretive approach is. Berglund was not adverse to making changes to Sibelius when he thought the composer took a misstep. The tempo fluctuations are much greater than Berglund would allow in later years. The solo flute passage in the first movement of the 3rd symphony is a prime example. The 2nd symphony starts at a slow tempo that makes one think " boredom". Stay with it, it quickly becomes a grippingly absorbing, tightly wrought experience that culminates in an outstanding performance. Standout performances are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and (in particular) the 7th symphonies. (I have not yet heard the 4th.)
The 7th symphony is the outstanding performance; it is a spaciously luminous, expansive account that yet maintains the long line and grips the listener.
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I wrote a review of this online back in 1999, with the old Royal Classics issue (still have 2 copies of that). Writing as the Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase, I said that it "is my top recommendation of the Seventh, and of the full cycle, bar none." I have always recommended it. (With apologies when it went out of print.)

Although I admit in more recent years I have not listened to many new recorded cycles to compare (and even some of the older ones) - there is absolutely no doubt in me that this is one of the finest interpretations of Sibelius's seven symphonies on record. Is there even a need to compare when you hear such natural performances, such organic playing? With these remastered reissues, the clarity of the sound and transparency of the orchestral lines took my breath away. It's better than ever now.

Seventh Symphony: "Berglund's conducting is simply amazing - you can hear and FEEL him shaping the music - everything is so alive. Yes, occasionally I think the playing is a bit "raw" - but it comes across directly as an expression of the life-giving energy of this music. The orchestra never comes across as static, instead its strength and flow creates a sensation of oceans of undulating earth. Can you imagine a serene hymn of thunder and rolling clouds? Because that is exactly how the timpani roll at the final C-chord is like - all at once, light and darkness in fusion, a cosmic chorale where everything reaches universal equilibrium at total force, shaking with voluminous yet unified power, brazen brass upon tremoring basses, booming timpani, humming harmonies of winds, fields upon fields of silvery strings; the orchestral lines conjoin, swell and surge forward with enormous volume of purpose, fusing to reach the nirvana of C major." (Please google Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase to find my original review).
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Format: Audio CD
The main achievements of Berglund in the Sibelius catalog are the premiere recording of Kullervo and the Helsinki and Bournemouth Symphony sets. The two cycles are very similar, though the Bournemouth tempi (the present disc)are slower. I can't see any any reason why a Sibelius fan should not have both cycles.

Sound from the early 70s is good, playing is good. I really can't find fault. The 2nd symphony here is as good as Helsinki, but as this version is new to me, I have been playing it over and over. The brass sound here is "brassier" than in the Helsinki, but I like both. For the 6th, Berglund has a bit of a slow pace in both versions, I have a slight preference for Helsinki there.

For the 7th, the Helsinki is in four tracks, the Bournemouth in one track, as is mostly done today. I like the high end strings a bit better wih Helsinki.

For 15 dollars, or even 20, you can't go wrong.

The extras in the set are different in part from the earlier edition of these symphonies on CD. This one includes Tapiola, as it should. Symphonies are first, extras on discs 3 and 4.
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Format: Audio CD
Just as I had spent a lot of time, effort and money to acquire these recordings of the symphonies separately, EMI finally see the light and throw it after us virtually for free! Well I can't complain.. I never succeeded in finding no. 6 on CD. This is currently my favourite set, together with the other EMI reissue, with Barbirolli, and the Karajan 4-7 on DG (supplemented by Kamu's 1-3).
Recordings sound excellent, and will satisfy all but the hard core of anti-romantics who'll want this music to sound more terse and "analytic". Make no mistake, whatever you say, Sibelius was a romantic, actually the last of the great romantic symphonists. Tempi are slow, if you like to compare timings. (For the ultra-romantics, Bernstein's final recordings on DG, of nos 1-2, are even more emotional and slow-moving.)
The other works in this set were already released in a different box together with Berglund's Helsinki version of the symphonies, which are faster and less enjoyable in my opinion.
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