Nobody conducts Sibelius any better than Jansons

Classical Sounds

April 28, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Sibelius, Symphonies No. 3 in C (Opus 52) and No. 5 in E-flat (Opus 82), performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (EMI Classics 7243 5 55533 2 4):

If anyone conducts Sibelius (or, for that matter, any Northern European composer) any better than the Latvian-born, Russian-trained Jansons, someone please tell me who. Jansons conducts both these works in a lean and mean fashion -- he never dawdles or falsely sentimentalizes -- and he achieves the huge emotional catharsis of the Fifth Symphony's great last movement without sounding hurried as do other modern conductors (Lorin Maazel, for example), who take a brisk approach to the Finn's symphonies. The performance of the Symphony No. 3 is one of the best this listener has heard in years.

The Oslo Philharmonic may not be a virtuoso orchestra on the order of Philadelphia (which Jansons frequently guest conducts and records with) or Pittsburgh (where Jansons becomes music director in the 1997-'98 season), but when it is conducted by Jansons, who has been its music director for more than a decade, its musicians play their hearts out and sound equal to any in the world.

Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 (original 1915 version) and En Saga (original 1892 version) performed by Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vanska (BIS-CD-800):

BIS is recording every note Sibelius wrote -- this is the 38th CD in the series -- and these are apparently the world premiere recordings of the original versions of these famous pieces. These fine performances should not be missed by anyone with an interest in the composer. Sibelius managed to finish the Symphony No. 5 in time for his 50th birthday concert on Dec. 8, 1915, but promptly withdrew the piece for substantial revisions that took nearly four years to complete.

The biggest changes involved the first two movements -- in the 1915 version they are separate (and the famous horn call is absent from the beginning of the first movement), and by 1919 they had become inextricably joined into a single movement. Another huge change involved the final movement. In Jansons' performance, which is also discussed here, it takes less than nine minutes to play; in Vanska's performance, it takes almost 14. Sibelius strove for concision in his revisions and succeeded brilliantly -- the new finale is almost 200 bars shorter. But this longer version, which shares the passion and thrust of the more familiar one, has a meandering grandeur, more menacing contours and a bleaker sound world that fans of the composer will find fascinating.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

Hear the music

To hear Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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