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Sibelius

Sibelius

Sibelius – Symphonies Nos 5 & 6 Sir Colin Davis / London Symphony Orchestra

Producer: James Mallinson
Balance engineering (Symphony No 5) & editing: Classic Sound Ltd
Balance engineer & editing (Symphony No 6): Tony Faulkner
Mixing & mastering: Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live 10-11 December 2003 (#5) in DSD, and 28-29 September 2002 (#6) in high-resolution audio, at the Barbican Hall, London

 

Sibelius was one of the most gifted and innovative symphonists who created music of astonishing beauty and luminosity. His Fifth Symphony is a breathtaking voyage that culminates in a resplendent finale, whilst his Symphony No 6 is more subtle, mysterious and refined almost to perfection.

Few composers have responded so vividly to the sounds of nature as Jean Sibelius. Birdcalls (particularly those of swans and cranes), the buzzing of insects, the sounds of wind and water all fascinated him; at times he seems to have heard something mystical in them. The sight and sounds of swans inspired the most famous theme in Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, as he recalled in a diary entry shortly after he began sketching the symphony:

‘Today at ten to eleven I saw 16 swans. One of the greatest experiences! … Their call the same woodwind type as that of cranes. The swan-call closer to the trumpet … Nature mysticism and life’s Angst! The Fifth Symphony’s finale-theme: Legato in the trumpets!!’

In fact, the finale theme doesn’t appear on the trumpets until near the end of the symphony, where it is marked nobile (‘noble’). It is actually the French horns that present the ‘Swan Hymn’ for the first time, borne out of a fleet-footed airborne dance for high strings – the same horns that opened the symphony with a notable rising-falling motif that becomes the basis for much of the symphony’s musical material. Within Sibelius’s writings, he often makes reference to a “God” – whether this was a version of the Christian God or a more pantheistic reverence for nature (as presented through the ‘Swan Hymn’) is never clear. Yet, whatever his leanings, a certain affirmation for his “faith” is quite clearly present in this energetic and uplifting work.

Sketches written down during the long composition process of the Fifth Symphony also provided material for the next two symphonies. Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony is the most enigmatic of the whole cycle, and has a strangely two-sided reputation. For many of Sibelius’s devotees, it is simply one of the most beautiful and original things he ever wrote; and yet it has never been as popular as its magnificent neighbours – the Fifth and Seventh symphonies. For despite the typically Sibelian sound world, the language of heroism is absent – no epic striving, no soaring hymns of triumph, no confrontation with threatening inner forces.

Nonetheless, both works here receive the care and attention of arguably the greatest Sibelius conductor in recent memory. Sir Colin Davis recorded Sibelius’s symphony cycle three times during his career: this recording from his second (and final) cycle with the LSO remains a perennial favourite in the catalogue.

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