Saturday, January 28, 2012

Glorious John Does Sibelius

Absolutely friggin' magnificent. Barbirolli was always a fine Sibelian, but I'm not sure I've ever heard a reading of Sibelius 2 that understands the Sibelian soundworld so well as this 1946 reading with the New York Philharmonic. To my astonishment, every reviewer who comes across this performance seems to think badly of it - not only preferring Barbirolli's later, mellower recordings of this piece but also going out of their ways to denigrate this performance. I simply don't understand that. There are moments of immense drive and equal repose, and in each case, Barbirolli only responds to what the music demands. For once, the 'weather episodes' of Sibelius 2 feel like genuine weather, and for once, Sibelius 2 sounds like it's by the same composer who wrote the 6th and 7th symphonies. But added the 20th century naturalism which Sibelius was beginning to develop is the 19th century striving for metaphysical transcendence, a feeling that Sibelius would forsake in his later career for a much bleaker type of zen stasis. Except for Robert Kajanus's early 30's reading, I'm not sure I've ever heard a more perceptive performance of this symphony. But this performance has far better sound and playing than Kajanus's Sibelius recordings ever got.

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