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Sibelius: Complete Symphonies, Vol. 1 ~ Nos. 1, 2, 4 & 5

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Audio CD, June 13, 1995
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Sibelius: Complete Symphonies, Vol. 1 ~ Nos. 1, 2, 4 & 5
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  • Sibelius: The Complete Symphonies, Vol. 2 - Symphonies Nos. 3, 6, 7 / The Violin Concerto / Finlandia / Tapiola / The Swan of Tuonela
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Editorial Reviews

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As so often happens in the classical record business, Sir Colin Davis has been busily rerecording all of this music for RCA, with the London Symphony. And because he's an English conductor working with an English orchestra, the British critics are raving, as if these earlier, much better, and much less expensive versions didn't even exist. Well, ignore the hype. Not only does the Boston Symphony play rings around today's London Symphony Orchestra (Davis's current group), but they are much better recorded too. This first Sibelius cycle was a prime recommendation when it first came out, and it still is, plain and simple. --David Hurwitz
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Boston Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Colin Davis
  • Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • Audio CD (June 13, 1995)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Philips
  • ASIN: B0000041BV
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,071 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Despite recommendations that pop up occasionally for more obscure cycles of the Sibelius symphonies, I find this to be, as a whole, the most fulfilling set. Davis and the BSO play and are recorded beautifully. The early symphonies, though not my favorites, here fare better than they often do because Davis doesn't make them sound like chilly Tchaikovsky. The Fourth gets a terrific reading, both appropriately bleak and, in the slow movement, lyrical and beautiful. Throughout we're aware that Davis isn't *pushing* to make a point...he brings out the music's qualities effortlessly and organically, with a quiet and subtle logic from movement to movement. The Fifth really allows the Boston Symphony to show off its superb colors, and we realize, in the right hands, this is one of the most beautiful, if not *the* most beautiful, in the United States. Davis manages sounds that are thick and plummy where needed (the tympani, for example) but also lean and crystaline where needed (string and often woodwind groupings, for example). He has a sound conception that I feel is ideal for Sibelius.

At the price, this is a steal. Although Davis has remade these works recently with the LSO on RCA, this is the cycle to get. The later recordings are less shaped, less focused, and the Londoners don't play as beautifully, nor are they as well-recorded. And at less than half the price for the same amount of music, this set is the best for your wallet too. A desert-island compilation.
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I'm ashamed to say this, but until recently I have avoided Sibelius like the plague. I'm even more ashamed to say this: I avoided him because certain classical music writers/scholars misled me into thinking that his melodic invention was second-rate, his orchestration flabby, and the majority of his works pedestrian. This is all before I even heard a note of the man's music. I'll never make that mistake again! Considering that it has been fashionable to take critical swipes at Beethoven (!) for the last 50 years, it's quite obvious that classical music critics can never be fully trusted. If that were the case, I never would have approached Wagner, Charles Ives, or Anton Webern.
I concur with several reviewers in stating that the overall sound of these recordings is excellent. Davis' conducting is very solid & stately. The Boston Symphonic sings this music with such frozen intensity that Symphony #4 can be almost overwhelmingly moving. Personally, I have never noticed any really intrusive noises during Symphony #5. I find that first movement incredible, though. Symphony #2 is more approachable (conventional) with its sprightly-yet-majestic opening movement. Things become darker in the second movement, while the third is somewhat manic and segues directly into a Tchaikovskian last movement.
Sibelius' music, for me, epitomizes the nation of his birth: lonely, cold, seemingly unsophisticated to those who don't bother scratching the surface; there are little of the Mozart or Verdi flourishes and warmth that define what "classical" music is all about for most casual orchestral music listeners. Subjectively speaking, however, I much prefer the hardy, profound and expansive terrain of composers like Sibelius or Beethoven to the elegant salons of Verdi or Chopin.
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The seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius (1865 -- 1957) are among the most impressive musical achievements of the Twentieth Century. His music fell into obscurity briefly at around the time of his death but fortunately has been restored to its rightful place. Few Twentieth Century composers have been so influential.

Colin Davis is a master of Sibelius' music, and his first cycle of the symphonies with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, available on two "duo" CD sets on Phillips, is available at a budget price. Sibelius's symphonies reward a "completist" approach. There are only seven, and the listener can follow the set in order and learn how Sibelius developed from a composer heavily influenced by late romanticism, including Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, and Wagner, to a modernist composer with a difficult, complex voice. For those wanting a guide, I recommend Michael Steinberg's book "The Symphony" (1995). Steinberg obviously loves Sibelius, and he discusses each of his symphonies in a clear, nontechnical way.

This CD includes Sibelius' first, second, fourth, and fifth symphonies which are probably his best-known and most accessible. The four-movement symphony no 1 in E minor opus 39 dates from 1899 when the composer was in his early 30s. Listen to the long, melancholy clarinet solo which opens this symphony. The second movement is lyrical and romantic, uncharacteristic of the later Sibelius, with a lush horn solo. The third movement is a brusque scherzo with a slow fragmented trio which points to Sibelius' later style. The finale builds to a great climax and then the music seems to come apart. It fades away at the end.
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This half of the Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra Sibelius cycle includes two performances I've long admired, one that's unexceptional, and one that seems a complete misfire.

Writing the finale to a symphony causes problems for young composers. The finale of the Mahler First is by far the weakest movement in the Mahler canon. The same is true of the Sibelius First--or is it? The stunning opening of the First announces a mature, original genius, but the finale can easily sound like imitation Tchaikovsky, as in the Stokowski and Maazel/Vienna recordings. Some people like these recordings; I don't. Other conductors--Berglund, Jansons, and Colin Davis among them--work hard to make the finale worthy of the first three movements. Davis is by and large successful, with only one rather awkward moment. I bought the Davis First when it came out on LP and have liked it ever since.

The Davis Second is a performance one would be happy to hear in concert, but doesn't offer any special insights. Listen to the Barbirolli/Royal Philarmonic Second and you'll hear a conductor who believes completely in the heroism and grandeur of this symphony while presenting a specifically Sibelian sound world. Because this symphony is so popular, some conductors who don't perform much Sibelius apply a generalized romantic veneer. Davis gets the specifically Sibelian sound, but doesn't find the passion.

The Gramophone reviewer applauds Davis for taking the slow movement of the Fourth at a really slow tempo, but I think this wrecks the symphony. In theory, a slow tempo ought to enhance the bleakness of this northern landscape, but in actuality the slow tempo turns the specifics of the score into something generalized, more romanticized, and warmer.
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