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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Jean Sibelius - Symphony No. 2 (John Barbirolli)


Composer: Jean Sibelius
  1. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43: I. Allegretto
  2. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43: II. Andante ma rubato
  3. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43: III. Vivacissimo - IV. Finale. Allegro moderato

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
John Barbirolli, conductor

Date: 1962
Label: Chesky



Imagine discovering this, one of the most snowily romantic of works, in an overwhelming performance and recording. That, in short, is what you have here. I would certainly recommend this recording with the live Beecham and Szell as representatives of the best traditions (and there are different approaches to this symphony). Oh you will find more refined sound and more generous couplings however the chances of bettering this musical event are weighed against you.

The symphony belongs in a group of works which includes the under-rated Kullervo, the first two symphonies, the Lemminkainen Legends and En Saga. Tchaikovsky and Balakirev ( in the third movement track 3 at 8.20 listen for echoes of Tamara).

Barbirolli, renowned for pacing ideas and energy, brings to the proceedings a febrile intensity and plans climaxes into the overall structure extracting every ounce of drama. This is no anonymous performance. Instead it exudes an almost Stokowski-like individuality. The orchestra (not Barbirolli's usual partner) seem totally engaged. There is a Tchaikovskian brilliance in the pizzicato in the first movement (2.40) and an imposing string entry at 6.19

The second movement's (andante ma rubato) steadily fluttering woodwind are memorable for its slow motion butterfly movement. Playing of great poetic eminence is drawn from everyone and this is aided by Charles Gerhardt's recording which was made at Walthamstow Town Hall in the 1960s as part of the Readers' Digest classical music series.

Barbirolli time and again evinces a grand feeling for dynamic terracing. He is a grandee of the whirlwind and a master romancer. The crowning glory of full-throated fanfares in the finale is rivalled only by Beecham in his shout-spurred BBCSO Colston Hall performance (for years available on a World Records Club LP). There is a great deliberation about the Allegro Moderato finale but no feeling of lassitude. The last pages tremble with intensity (18.24 [3]) and all unforgettable majesty of a fanfare-crowned finale.

As for the rest, this is a platinum performance played with explosive rips and tugs of energy. It deserves permanence in the catalogue

I am not sure about playing times but Barbirolli's later recording of this symphony (HMV) is not as fleet or as intense.

There are superb and specific (English only) notes.

Highly recommended.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

More reviews:


Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957) was a Finnish violinist and composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. His music contributed to the development of a feeling of national identity in Finland where he is now celebrated as the country's greatest composer. Sibelius is widely known for his seven symphonies, the violin concerto and the tone poems, especially Finlandia and the Karelia suite. Throughout his career, the composer found inspiration in nature and Nordic mythology. He almost completely stopped composing after 1920s and did not produce any large-scale works in his last thirty years.


John Barbirolli (2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970) was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late romantic composers, such as Mahler and Sibelius, as well as of earlier classical composers, including Schubert, are also still admired.


FLAC, tracks
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  3. Congrats on the post: one of the top Sibelius recordings!