Sibelius Symphonies Nos 4 & 6 – Berglund
I started with the new Berglund CD, coupling the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. With this Finnish conductor one can rely on music-making that is totally selfless and dedicated, with no playing to the gallery. But he has, after all, already recorded the Fourth Symphony no fewer than three times, first in 1969 with the Finnish RSO (originally on Decca, now available on Finlandia) and later with the Bournemouth (EMI, 6/77 – nla) and Helsinki orchestras and the Sixth twice (EMI, 2/76 – nla, and 1/88 – now reissued on EMI Forte, see below), as part of his complete cycles. Whatever their merits, the prospect of yet another, a third cycle from him even with the wonderful Chamber Orchestra of Europe, does not exactly prompt the pulse to quicken. The Fourth gets a scrupulously well-prepared performance and there is a welcome freshness and intentness about the approach. The slow movement has genuine atmosphere and the chamber-like sonorities are expertly balanced. Berglund moves the first movement of the Sixth Symphony along with genuine momentum and there is a lot here that is convincing and inspiriting. I rather warmed to this reading, which is more impressive than his weightier Helsinki account. There is a lot to be said for Sibelius plain and unadorned, which is what Berglund always gives us, reproduced as here, in sound of exemplary clarity and balance. Both performances find him on infinitely better form than in the earthbound First Symphony with the Oslo Philharmonic, with which he regaled Londoners some 12 months ago. But the truth for which he strives gives us only part of the picture.
Sir Colin Davis’s Sibelius cycle at London’s Barbican Centre some years ago gained immediate recognition. Andrew Porter went as far as to compare it with that of Furtwangler’s post-war Beethoven cycle in London. The ensuing recordings have lived up to the high expectations of that cycle. The Fourth was always one of the triumphs of his Boston survey on Philips. Along with the 1937 Beecham and the 1954 Philharmonia (Columbia, 5/54 – nla) and 1966 Berlin Philharmonic Karajan sets, the Colin Davis was one of the most inward and searching readings committed to disc, and his recent Sixth with the LSO was masterly.
Berglund’s players are keen and fresh but not so deeply immersed in the idiom as are the LSO. We are not long – indeed barely a few bars – into the first movement of the Fourth before we realize that we are in a totally different world from the Berglund. There is a far greater sense of breadth (Sir Colin allows himself more space and takes nearly 10'55'' to Berglund’s 9'23'') but it is in terms of imaginative insight that Davis scores. Berglund offers carefully delineated contours and outlines, as well as giving a good monochrome picture of this world. Davis takes us completely inside it – we become part of it and feel we inhabit it. To my mind Sir Colin’s Fourth is the finest and most powerful reading of the work to have emerged since the days of Karajan.
What is there to say of his First save that it, too, has an excitement, a sense of immediacy and authenticity of feeling that is equally convincing. This is Sibelius conducting of real stature and the LSO respond with total commitment. RCA provide a first-rate recording. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.'