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Sibelius

With his Third Symphony, Sibelius began a process of innovation that was to culminate in his Seventh and final symphony. He discarded the conventional structure of a symphony, and into each work condensed a unique aura that evokes beauty, mystery, colour and light together with his love of his Finnish homeland.

Producer: James Mallinson
Engineering, editing, mixing & mastering: Jonathan Stokes & Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live in DSD 64fs on 24-25 September 2003 (No 3), 1-2 October 2003 (No 7), and 29 June and 2 July 2008 (The Oceanides) at the Barbican Hall, London

After composing his Second Symphony relatively quickly, Sibelius laboured for three years over its successor. At the time, his Finnish homeland was still a Grand Duchy of Russia, not a fully independent state. There was, however, a strong popular movement for freedom, whose mood Sibelius had captured in works like Karelia (1893). The Second Symphony’s triumphant premiere had prompted some Finns to hail the radiantly positive work as the expression of a nation’s yearning for freedom. When it eventually arrived, the Third Symphony’s concentrated, pared-down style and avoidance of grand romantic expression disappointed those who were expecting a heroic sequel to the “Symphony of Liberation”. Yet in terms of Sibelius’s growth as a symphonist, the work is a major step forward: using the seeds of small musical motifs from the first movement, he grows them gradually throughout the work, subtly linking the three movements. The finale’s theme is heard constantly stirring in the background, before eventually emerging, hymn-like, on strings in the final movement, steadily building to a magnificent conclusion.

If the Third Symphony was a “work in progress” in distilling the symphonic structure down to a naturally evolutionary, but succinct, form (again, following from Symphony No 2, whose third movement seamlessly transitions into the finale), then the Seventh Symphony was the culmination of that journey. In the last of his symphonies that Sibelius was prepared to release to the world (a near-complete Eighth was almost certainly destroyed in the 1940s), he created his most river-like symphonic structure: Symphony No 7 is in one continuous movement. It begins and ends with an Adagio, but after the first big climax the speed and character of the music change frequently, and the different sections are so skilfully dovetailed that again it is virtually impossible to say where one begins and another ends.

The tone poem The Oceanides (Ocean Nymphs) was composed in 1914 to a commission from two wealthy American patrons. The work loosely develops across three parts: at the start, we hear a tranquil ocean, which gradually becomes more turbulent, before climaxing with awe-inspiring, thunderous wave-crashes. It seems Sibelius wrote an earlier version of the work, which was then revised, possibly as the result of the long sea voyage to the US (thought to be Sibelius’s first such experience).

The London Symphony Orchestra is led in these performances by Sir Colin Davis, renowned as one of the greatest Sibelius conductors. He conducted three complete cycles of Sibelius’s symphonies throughout his career – the last of which is this acclaimed cycle with the LSO.

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