With his seven symphonies the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius marks a high point in the symphonic repertoire of the 20th century. The music evokes the ghostliness of the Finnish landscape, carries an inner strength and depth and proves itself full of technical fi nesse that still poses a challenge for both conductors and performers. For Sibelius “a symphony is not a ‘composition’ in the ordinary sense. Rather, it is a declaration of faith at different stages of one’s life.”
Success was assured for Leila Josefowicz in her 1994 recording debut, for the 17-year-old violinist had performed these works several times before and had perfected her interpretations through constant preparation and presentation. Along with her boundless energy and self-confidence, Josefowicz's skills have placed her at the forefront of violin virtuosi, and this recording is a fascinating record of her precocity. Tchaikovsky's Classically oriented violin concerto is as bright a showpiece as exists in the repertoire. However, Josefowicz's mastery of the brilliant scales and arpeggios is almost secondary to her soulful shaping of the purely melodic material that is at the heart of this intensely lyrical piece.
Finland's Jean Sibelius is perhaps the most important composer associated with nationalism in music and one of the most influential in the development of the symphony and symphonic poem. Sibelius was born in southern Finland, the second of three children. His physician father left the family bankrupt, owing to his financial extravagance, a trait that, along with heavy drinking, he would pass on to Jean. Jean showed talent on the violin and at age nine composed his first work for it, Rain Drops. In 1885 Sibelius entered the University of Helsinki to study law, but after only a year found himself drawn back to music. He took up composition studies with Martin Wegelius and violin with Mitrofan Wasiliev, then Hermann Csillag…
Beethoven reputedly wasn't Beecham's favorite composer, but you wouldn't know it from this performance; it's exceedingly well conceived, highly energetic, and has that unique Beecham sparkle to it. The fillers also are delightful. All recorded in Ascona, Switzerland in 1957.
Recorded in the mid-1970s with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, this classic cycle of symphonies and tone poems firmly established Sir Colin Davis's reputation as one the greatest Sibelius interpreters. Nearly forty years on and the cycle remains as grand and dynamic as ever.
This well recorded disc from 1985 delivers impressive readings of both of these works. Mullova takes a very individual view of these concertos and has the technical assurance to communicate her view with compelling certainty.
The Tchaikovsky concerto is played in the full uncut version that was written by the composer. This is now becoming more common but in 1985 was still unusual enough to warrant comment. By playing the notes as Tchaikovsky had intended Mullova signals a very serious intent which she carries out throughout these two concertos.
For Simon Rattle, Jean Sibelius is “one of the most staggeringly original composers that there is”. And indeed, this music has a unique musical language whose many beauties are particularly succinctly conveyed in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. There is sonorous warmth as much as there is austere Nordic folklore. Moreover, there is a conceptual boldness that takes the listener on exciting musical journeys of discovery. In 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth, Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the cycle live, which was met with unanimous delight by audiences and critics alike. “The Philharmoniker show that with them and Simon Rattle, Sibelius is in excellent hands,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung, “because the orchestra has that astringency and sheer power which is so important for this kind of music.”