Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4

Colin Davis

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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 Review

by James Leonard

Hard as it may be to believe, Colin Davis in his ninth decade is a better Sibelius conductor than he was in his sixth or eighth decades. The proof is in this terrifically exciting and tremendously moving coupling of the Finnish master's First and Fourth symphonies. While Davis' earlier recordings of the works with the Boston Symphony in the '70s and with the London Symphony Orchestra in the '90s were outstanding in every way, these 2006 and 2008 recordings of the same works, also with the LSO, are even better. Not so much technically -- Davis has always been a superlative orchestral technician -- but temperamentally: where his earlier interpretations were strongly conceived dramatic readings with plenty of power and panache, his interpretations here are deeply considered, thoroughly tragic readings. Now, Davis' sees clearly that the First, for all its heroic striving, ultimately ends with the death of its symphonic hero, and the Fourth, for all its grim determination, ultimately ends with the death not only of its symphonic hero but also with the death of all the forces of light and hope. This may sound hyperbolic, but as those who know and love the Fourth recognize, it is no more than that which the work's great performances aspire to. With the virtuoso playing of the LSO at his command, Davis' interpretations are darkly pessimistic and brutally honest. Recorded in vivid digital sound before a live audience, these performances may not be for everyone, but anyone who admires Davis or Sibelius is urged to listen to them.

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