Sibelius: Symphony Nos. 4 & 7; Finlandia

Herbert von Karajan

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Sibelius: Symphony Nos. 4 & 7; Finlandia Review

by James Leonard

The Fourth descends, sinking inevitably downward into the abyss of nihilistic air and fuliginous light, while the Seventh ascends, rising ineluctably upward into the empyrean of radiant air and luminous light. In these performances by Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London recorded by Walter Legge, Sibelius' Fourth and Seventh ideally embody the Janus-faced quality of his art at its best. Karajan, later the most refined of narcissists, was in Sibelius the most passionate of advocates and his interpretations here are true to the music's own heroic nature. The Philharmonia, then the finest of England's orchestras and always the best of studio orchestras, was here polished, powerful and sumptuously colorful. Legge, then the finest of English producers and still one of the finest A&R reps ever to sign an act, was here at the apex of his relationship with Karajan and the sound he achieved is still among the most immensely attractive ever recorded. For fans of Sibelius, Karajan, the Philharmonia, or Legge, these recordings are self-recommending. Even the inclusion of the pot-boiling Finlandia as a curtain-raiser does nothing to diminish the magnificence of the Fourth and Seventh. Besides, one can always skip it.

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