Gennady Rozhdestvensky / Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra

Sibelius: The Symphonies

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Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra recorded the complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius between 1969 and 1974, in remarkably fresh analog sound that's simply outstanding in the transfer to CD. Thanks to Melodiya's original high recording standards and the exceptional engineering behind this three-disc package, the performances have wide open dimensions, credible physical presence, vibrant timbres, and crisp details that are almost as finely preserved as many later all-digital, super audio recordings. Rozhdestvensky was widely respected for his sympathetic interpretations of Sibelius' music, and rather than treat the symphonies as cerebral or idiosyncratic essays, he gave them intensely focused and connected readings that always feel as organic and substantial as Sibelius intended them. The Moscow musicians play with alert rhythms (essential in the changing tempos of the later symphonies) and pungent sonorities that give the music a wonderful sense of being performed for the first time, though intonation is an occasional problem in the woodwinds, and the brass are decidedly assertive. In terms of its musical merits, this set has serious competition from the excellent recordings that Colin Davis made with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Lorin Maazel recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, around the same period. As insightful and valuable documents of Sibelius' symphonies, all three deserve consideration and have fans, but purely in terms of sound, the Rozhdestvensky is a clear winner.

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