Ah, Sibelius. I remember, in my youth, in avant-garde oriented France, Sibelius was anathema. There was this pronouncement by René Leibowitz – famously the introducer of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music in France, and otherwise a fine and wide-minded conductor, as testified by his great recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and by others of Offenbach operettas and music you would never associate with the introducer of twelve-tone music in France – who claimed that Sibelius was the worst composer that ever was. And reading Sibelius’ entry on Wikipedia and the paragraph on the reception of his music, I see that Leibowitz was only following Adorno – it figures: Adorno was all the more worshiped as he defended modernism and was mostly incomprehensible -, who wrote, in 1938: “If Sibelius is good, this invalidates the standards of musical quality that have persisted from Bach to Schoenberg: the richness of inter-connectedness, articulation, unity in diversity, the ‘multi-faceted’ in ‘the one’.” Just proves, once again, that people derive from their knowledge and expertise in one field an excuse and legitimacy to be utter ignoramus asses in fields in which they have no knowledge whatsoever. And in my own music-loving family circle, some said: “If you don’t recognize who composed it, you can be sure it was Sibelius” – with the implication that the music was faceless and without personality.
The deaf, prejudiced asses. Listen to two seconds of Sibelius, listen not even to an interval but to a single tone and you’ll immedately recognize the unique personality, the unique sound of Sibelius., and you’ll be transported into the vast Finnish forests and tundras. I’ve listened to a lot of Sibelius, but I haven’t reviewed yet as much as I’ve listened, because my big listening time of the symphonies was before I reviewed (and I remember that the conclusion of my comparative listening back then was that Bernstein’s New York cycle was great, his partial DG cycle was uniquely personal – well, almost: emulated only by Barbirolli’s with Hallé, that Colin Davis was thick and heavy, that Karajan was great in the last four but horrendously Teutonic in the first two on EMI, and I couldn’t muster much affection for Lorin Maazel’s cycle with Vienna except, if I recall, in the fourth Symphony, but I suspect this would change if I listened again. And there were all the individual versions of course, the early ones by the pionneers Koussevitzky, Schneevoigt, Beecham and wasshisname wasn’t he Sibelius’ son-in-law? and the later ones, among which I recall that Okko Kamu had recording an excellent First and Third on DG).
I’ve been accumulating all these years and now need to find the time to go back to Sibelius. The only work of his that I have more substantially reviewed so far is the Violin Concerto – it may be a popular warhorse, it’s a great Concerto. I need to transfer all those reviews from Amazon.
Songs with piano
Violin Concerto. Julian Sitkovetsky, Rumanian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Niyazi 1953 (+Khachaturian: Violin Concerto, Bazzini: Rondo in E minor, Sarasate: Two Spanish Dances op. 21. Bella Davidovich, piano). Monopole MONO 002 (2005) Fabulous performances but dismal transfers – avoid (see the review for better editions)
Tone Poems & Incidental music
Scene with Cranes op. 44/1 (1906)
Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer (violin and direction). In “De Profundis” (works of Sibelius, Pärt, Šerkšnytė, Schumann, Nyman, Schubert, Tickmayer, Shostakovich, Auerbach, Piazzolla, Pelēcis, Schnittke). Nonesuch 7559 79969 9 (2010)
Voice & Orchestra
The Maiden in the Tower