Sibelius ranks as one of the most important and strikingly original symphonic composers of the twentieth century. His Violin Concerto, a wonderful synthesis of technical brilliance and poignant, deeply-felt melody, is one of the greatest concertos in the repertoire. It is coupled on this disc with the rarely recorded Violin Concerto No. 1, by Christian Sinding, widely remembered as the composer of The Rustle of Spring.
These discs in the Trio Series present some of the best orchestral music by Jean Sibelius, including "Lemminkäinen suite", "Night Ride and Sunrise", "Pohjola's Daughter," "En Saga," "The Oceanides," and "Tapiola". There are other favorites as well including "Valse Triste," and for some people lesser-known masterworks such as "Luonnotar", "Spring Song", "King Christian", and "The Bard". Sibelius emerges in these woks as a modern and tremendous composer who rarely fails when inspired by literature.
This double CD from EMI features the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by their Finnish principal conductor at the time (1970s), Paavo Berglund. It doesn't have to be that a conductor originates from the same country as the composer whose works he or she is conducting, but it often happens that this combination seems to produce performances of greatest sensitivity. So it is here, as Berglund conducts 10 works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The discs include quite familiar works like En Saga, one of Sibelius' first compositions when he was in his late 20s. We also have Pohjola's Daughter, The Bard and two of the four Lemminkäinen Legends, and a beautiful version of Luonnotar sung by the Finnish soprano Taru Valjakka. The rest of the discs is made up of less frequently heard pieces. We have the five-movement suite from the incidental music Sibelius wrote for Adolf Paul's play King Christian II (1898); the Spring Song (Vårsång) of 1894; the suite of incidental music from Maeterlinck's Pelleas and Melisande.
This is one of the mere handful of great recordings of the Sibelius violin concerto. Not that there aren't many contestants in the field; in fact, it seems that almost every modern violin virtuoso wants to record the Sibelius, and perhaps this isn't surprising, since it's one of the Big Five (along with the Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky) major violin concertos.
These are wonderful performances, full of the flair that made Stern famous. I was glad Sony chose this particular version of the Tchaikovsky with Ormandy and the Philadelphians for his "Life in Music" series, rather than Stern's later version with Berstein and the NYPO. This earlier recording captures Stern with more spontaneity and displays his virtuosity to greater effect. The faster passages of the Tchaikovsky are handled with ease, even at speeds faster than normally heard.