Sibelius: Symphony No. 5; Nielsen: Symphony No. 4

background music CDs > Sibelius: Symphony No. 5; Nielsen: Symphony No. 4

Edition: Audio CD

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 Orchestral & Symphonic
 Classical Composers
 20th/21st Century Orchestral Music
 20th/21st Century Symphony
 Classical Music
 Carl Nielsen
 Jean Sibelius
 Simon Rattle
 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
 Philharmonia Orchestra of London

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Very low-key Sibelius and Nielsen from a very young Rattle

This Sibelius Fifth with the Philharmonia from 1981 is close to being Simon Rattle's first major recording, if not the very first. The Nielsen Fourth from three years later features his own City of Birmingham Sym. Orch., which in fact plays better for its conductor than the more famous London orchestra. Rattle approaches both works with nice explosions of enthusiasm, particuarly at the beginning and end of the Nielsen, which is much the better performed work. The famous timpani duel in the finale of the Nielsen fires away splendidly. But in between these outbursts Rattle lapses into dreamy, slack passages where the music stands still and all tension is lost.

Perhaps this stasis is deliberate, and there may be listeners who hear something meditative going on. My impression, however, is that of a gifted conductor who can't quite get his ideas across. If the orchestra is actually playing what Rattles hears in his head, then he hears a recessive version of both Sibelius and Nielsen. Overall, unless you are a committed Rattle fan, these are restrained accounts without real distinction except in passing moments.

The perfect Sibelius 5?

This was Rattle before he became what he is today (e.g., Sir). And his Sibelius 5th was one of his first EMI recordings. I think that from then on it was downhill for him and for the quality of sound EMI gave him. This one, then, is exceptional because of the wonderful conducting and the range of sound accomplished. Nowadays, EMI seems unable to repeat the wonderful bass sound of this ANALOGUE(!) recording. The Nielsen is good, but the Sibelius is SPECIAL.

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