Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6

Colin Davis

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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 Review

by James Leonard

English conductors have loved the music of Sibelius with a true and undying love. From Beecham and Barbirolli straight through to Davis and Rattle, English conductors have always championed the terse but tremendous Finn's music. With these recordings of Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6, Davis has now recorded each work three times: first with the Boston Symphony in the '70s, then with the London Symphony Orchestra in the '90s, and now with the LSO again early in the twenty first century. Both his earlier recordings were among the best ever made by an English conductor with a slight edge going to the later LSO recordings because of their sense of awe and inevitability.

This recording is not in the same league as either of the earlier recordings. Part of the reason is that Davis' tempos are too little too forceful in the outer movements, a bit too flaccid in the central movements, and not quite as cogent from start to finish. Part of the reason is that the LSO's playing is a little too scrappy in the accelerando in the Fifth's opening movement, a bit too sloppy in the Sixth's closing movement, and not quite as radiant from beginning to end. Part of the reason is that the LSO's thin but dim recording is nowhere near as lucid and evocative as the Philips' stereo recordings and nowhere near as clear and deep as the BMG digital recording. If you already have both Davis' earlier recordings, plus the recordings by Beecham and Barbirolli, plus a half-dozen recordings by assorted Finnish conductors reaching back to the '30s, by all means try the latest Davis.

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