August 2007

Sibelius - Pohjola’s Daughter; Symphony No. 2
London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis cond.
LSO Live LSO0605
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

There has been a good deal of excitement in some quarters about Sir Colin Davis’s third Sibelius cycle, which happens to be his second with the LSO, but his first from live concerts and in SACD. For all the respect Davis has earned in this repertory, however, I have to say this is a pretty dull Pohjola’s Daughter. It takes 14 1/2 minutes, about two minutes more than the norm. The problem isn't just the pacing, though, but a feeling of excessive restraint and loss of momentum. Davis’s own earlier recording of the piece with the Boston SO (recently reissued on PentaTone) is more effective in that respect, although it runs a bit longer than this new performance.

The Second Symphony is quite a different matter, clearly Davis’s finest account of the work, and one of the most persuasive from any source. Here nothing is held back and nothing is overdone. The performance conveys the sort of scrubbed-clean intensity this music (and so much of Sibelius) demands for its most powerful and lasting impression. Davis clearly knows exactly where he is going when he begins the large-scale finale, and he delivers magnificently.

The obvious reservation here is that there are more than a few terrific recordings of this popular work, and most of the others have persuasive companion pieces. But, for those who like to have more than a single version, this is definitely one worth having, particularly since James Mallinson continues to give the LSO concert recordings all the sonic benefits we expect from a studio session.