Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Early Stereo Recordings Volume 6

Tulen synty
Pohjola’s Daughter
Valse triste
String Quartet in D minor
rec. 1956 (Weldon’s Finlandia), before July 1957 (String Quartet), October-November 1953 (others) 
First Hand Records FHR85 [82]

The sixth volume in this ever-inventive series focuses on one composer, Sibelius, in performances recorded in 1953, with the exceptions of the String Quartet, and Finlandia in George Weldon’s recording. Everything is a first recording in stereo apart from the Weldon, which was taped in Kingsway Hall in March 1956 and which is being reissued for the first time. In addition, Tulen synty (‘The Origin of Fire’) is heard in the world première recording. The source materials are stereo tapes from the collections of Stephen Crane and Peter Bromley which preserve some of the earliest commercial recordings of orchestral music, made in October-November 1953 by those ahead-of-the-game American labels, Livingston and the more well-known Remington. The Cincinnati recordings, which were made by Remington, were reissued in stereo in 1978 on a Varèse Sarabande LP.

It’s apt that the disc begins and ends with Finlandia. The earlier recording is that of Vittorio Gui with the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino which has been reissued on ReDiscovery CD alongside the other recordings Gui made with that orchestra at the time. Weldon is a minute quicker than Gui and has the better orchestra (the Philharmonia) and recording, but Gui is the more visceral and intense. The remainder of the programme explores little-charted Sibelian waters. The first is Finlandia – the hymn this time, in the 1939 version for male choir. The Helsinki University Chorus under its director Martti Turunen were on an American tour and Remington took full advantage to record them either a cappella, as here, or with orchestra. They also sing No.6, Song of My Heart, of the Six Part Songs, Op.18 with the baritones and basses characteristically rich and sonorous. They were joined by the Cincinnati Symphony and Thor Johnson for Tulen synty, a nine-minute cantata of powerful, communicative drama, splendidly sung by the chorus and by soloist, baritone Sulo Saarits.

Johnson has things to himself when directing Pohjola’s Daughter with the Cincinnati Symphony. Johnson was one of many musicians to have beaten a path to Sibelius’ door, in Johnson’s case in 1951, to discuss interpretative matters. This is a good recording though hardly the last word in orchestral refinement. Gui’s Valse triste prefaces a performance of the String Quartet ‘Voces intimae’ by the Pascal Quartet. I reviewed a broadcast performance the quartet gave of it in July 1955 (review) which was very plain  and certainly couldn’t measure up to the pre-war 78 set made by the Budapest Quartet. Post-War, the Griller Quartet made a fine recording for Decca notable for an intensely drawn-out slow movement. This Pascal Quartet version is, like their broadcast, blunt and sounds rushed in places, though that’s a consequence of a certain metrical rigidity not the tempo as such. French ensembles were, then as now, not especially known for their Sibelius. It’s clear that Concert Hall, who recorded the Quartet, valued their contribution and it is a rare find though it’s not an especially convincing recording.

Among the producers of these recordings, one finds the names Don Gabor and László Halász of Remington, Hans Wolf and ‘Ched’ Smiley of Livingston and EMI’s Brian Culverhouse. Great, pioneering names.

Extensive notes by Tully Potter and Peter Bromley set the seal on this sixth volume and the inner fold out of the DigiSleeve gatefold reveals two LP covers, a most attractive look.

If you have collected this far in the series you won’t want to stop. Curios and surprises, such as in this volume, are constant features.

Jonathan Woolf

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Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Vittorio Gui
Finlandia – Hymn (version for male choir: sung in Finnish) (1939)
Helsinki University Chorus/Martti Turunen
Six Part Songs, Op. 18: No. 6. Sydameini laulu (‘Song of my Heart’) (sung in Finnish) (1900)
Helsinki University Chorus/Martti Turunen
Tulen synty (‘The Origin of Fire’), Op. 32 (sung in Finnish) (1902 rev 1910)
Sulo Saarits (baritone)/Helsinki University Chorus/Martti Turunen/Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Thor Johnson
Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49 (1906)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Thor Johnson
Valse triste, Op. 44, No. 1 (1904)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Vittorio Gui
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 ‘Voces intimae’ (1909)
Pascal Quartet
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899)
Philharmonia Orchestra/George Weldon