It really isn't about a "lush" orchestra versus a thinner toned one it's about style and temperament. Certainly the LSO or the old Philharmonia are better suited to this music because of their tone and temperament and also their familiarity with Sibelius. If you want a lush orchestra playing this composer try Ormandy/ Philadelphia. They knew the style and sound wonderful. I heard live in Carnegie Hall them under Sawallich playing the 7th a few years ago and was overwhelmed by the power and concentrated tone and balance. A reveiewer once described them as having "Glacial splendour" when they played Sibelius.
Beecham and others performed Sibelius in the UK of course but I am reminded that Kletzki produced two fine recordings of the 1st and 2nd with the Philharmonia and Monteux of the 2nd in the late fifties/early sixties with a catalogue, at the time almost completely dominated by British conductors with British orchestras, the exceptions being Ormandy and, forgotten, now, Paray in the 2nd and Karajan in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th (the 5th was to arrive later) with the Philharmonia.The only other exception was Tuxen, the great Dane, in the 5th.
So, to some extent I agree with you as some of my favourite recordings are with "well-upholstered" orchestras such as the Boston, Berlin and, at its peak, Philharmonia but some are not, Philadelphia, NYPO and VPO. Whilst other favourites are not so sumptuous: Lahti and Birmingham.
I suppose, as it usually does, it is the conductor that makes all the difference, although why Davis' Boston recordings are light years away from his RCA recordings is a mystery to me.
Has anyone, by any chance, heard Celibidache's performances of the 2nd and 5th, with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra? I'm curious!
I am not so it is the conductor that makes the difference, for me its the combination. A really smart conductor (particularly a guest conductor) surely realises that he has to mould the performance out of three basic elements: the score, the venue and the character of the players at hand (there may well be other factors and feel free to add them!). Recently I have read qute a few reviews and articls describing how Stephane Deneve turned the RNSO into a truly gallic sounding orchestra - and I think the longer you work with the same team the better the result. Somebody can confirm this maybe, but was not Davis a long term guest conductor at the time of his recordings with the BSO, whereas his RCA recordings were more 'pick-up style'?
Of all the orchestras in the world I would assume those from Scandinavia, such as the Lahti band, have the music of Sibelius closer to their fingers than almost any. I have to admit I have never though of them as anything but top rate - it is just they play differently.
Which is a problem that concert promoters and organisers always face and is, usually, resolved quite simply: don't.
The 2nd, 5th, 1st and 7th, in that order, still hold in the concert repertoire as far as I can make out from personal experience over recent years.
The 3rd seems to be the least popular and is famous for NOT being recorded by Karajan. He did not understand it, apparently!
It is so sad that the live concert repetoire is so shallow, outside the radio orchestras who have more lattitude it seems.
Yesterday I saw a video (probably two years old now) of Sir Mark Elder talking about 'Also Sprach...'. Strangely enough he commented how this piece was actually quite hard to programme due to the ending, which he always felt left the audience with an unresolved feeling. His solution - play John Adam's "Short Ride in a Fast Machine".
In that spirit I would suggest maybe after Sibelius' 4th symphony we could come up with a bookend piece?
Sir Mark is of the persuasion that audiences do not like quiet endings to the final work of the evening i.e. Brahms 3rd Symphony, but I thought audiences had moved on especially as there are many modern pieces by composers such as Tavener and Part who are very popular but rarely have a sforzando between them.
Beecham used to say that he wanted his audience to go home whistling/humming a good tune and was famous for his encores that he called "lollipops."
Maybe Elder sees the Adams piece as a lollipop? I have to say during his first few years with the Halle, when I was still living locally, he showed no particular desire to alays end on either a quiet note or with a bang! Great conductor in my opinion, and has trasnformed the Halle from the very clinical orchestra it was under Nagano.
Brahms 3rd - the problem is not the quiet resolution for me but that it seems to just run out of ideas. My prejudice against Brahms coming out again... but then again when I heard Guilini complete the Brahms symphonies with the Philharmonia I rated them some of the most spectacular concerts I ever heard. Just goes to show, great music still does not play itself.
Yes, I know these performances well and they are both outstanding. The 2nd is in mono, but good mono while the 5th (stereo) is in my view the most outstanding on record, a highly moving performance with extreme tensions and a wonderful symphonic build-up to the finale. Highly recommended!
I never heard him perform the 5th live, but many times the 2nd, so I'm a little less impressed by that, mostly due to the poorer sound quality which "flattens" the amazing spectrum of sonority that he was capable of bringing out of the orchestra.
Both are amazing performances, get them if you can.
Thanks Ganymede! I'm going to search for them now!
And why not?
I agree both about Elder, more please from the Halle's own label, and Brahms.