Sibelius Symphonies Nos 2 & 6
Readers will recall the acclaim that greeted the Sibelius cycle Sir Colin Davis and the LSO gave at the Barbican in the autumn of 1992. Andrew Porter wrote of it at the time as being as memorable as Furtwangler's post-war Beethoven cycle! The first issue in the recorded series brought us a marvellously paced account of the Third, a performance of both grandeur and majesty, and a no less eloquent Fifth Symphony (RCA, 3/95).
I started with the Sixth and with high expectations as that was one of the finest readings of his earlier cycle with the Boston Symphony, which I reviewed last June. I was not disappointed. Sir Colin is totally attuned to this extraordinary work, whose eloquent polyphony, purity of utterance and harmony of spirit give it a special place in the canon. As I have said elsewhere, in this symphony ''Sibelius's mastery enables him to move with a freedom so complete that the musical events are dictated by their own inner necessity''. And in Davis's hands this music unfolds with a freedom and naturalness that are totally convincing. As Sibelius said of the Fourth Symphony, this is music ''with nothing of the circus about it'', and in this reading there is no playing to the gallery.
There is no playing to the gallery either in Sir Colin's account of the Second Symphony. In writing of his Boston account I noted that he ''views the work as a whole and does not invest detail with undue expressive vehemence at its expense... but strikes just the right balance between the nationalist-romantic inheritance on the one side and the classical power of Sibelius's thinking on the other''. And this goes for the present performance. The first movement has dignity and breadth, and as with Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic, for which I eventually plumped in a BBC Radio 3 ''Building a Library'' programme last year, the pacing of climaxes is magisterial. The RCA recording has splendid presence and space.