Sibelius: Finlandia; Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5

Herbert von Karajan

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Sibelius: Finlandia; Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 Review

by James Leonard

Why EMI has released Herbert von Karajan's early-'50s recordings of Sibelius' Fourth and Fifth symphonies, plus Finlandia, with the Philharmonia yet one more time? Is it because Karajan's 1952 Fourth is the bleakest, darkest, and most nihilistic recording of the work ever made? Is it because Karajan's 1953 Fifth is more polished and more propulsive than his '60s and '70s recordings of the work? Is it because Karajan's 1953 Finlandia is nothing more than bombast and bathos executed at a supremely elevated level? Is it because Karajan uses bells in the closing Allegro of the Fourth to announce the end of hope? Is it because the playing of the '50s Philharmonia is tight, loose, sleek, lush, and radiantly colorful? Is it because the production of Walter Legge is lucid, warm, vivid, and deep? Or is it because of the DVD that features a film of Karajan conducting the Orchestre de Paris in 1970 in the finale of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique along with "highlights from the best of the EMI classics DVD catalog?" Whatever the reason Karajan's nihilistic Fourth has been unleashed again, anyone who fancies standing vis-à-vis de la rein is encouraged to take a listen.

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