This is part of a new venture by the enterprising recording company, Divine Art, in presenting well restored historic recordings on to CDs.
Symphony No. 5 and Tapiola are performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Kajanus and the 6th Symphony performed by the Finnish National Orchestra conducted by Geog Schnéevoigt. Both were recorded in 1932 and issued by HMV on behalf of the Sibelius Society. These 78 recordings were well known to Sibelius and the performances endorsed by him. Thus the recordings are considered by many as being definitive.
I well remember hearing some of these early Sibelius Society recordings. The music seemed very strange, but often exciting. Their price and the fact that you could not purchase individual records but only a complete album ensured that they were rarities. As with many 78 recordings of that era made by HMV the surface noise was excruciating.
This issue is of astonishingly high quality, with all trace of surface noise removed. It is hard to believe believe that the recordings were made such a long time ago. There is a technical note by Andrew Rose, who said that of all his restorations this is perhaps the one he is most proud of.
Kajanus is the conductor who was specially noted for authentic performances of Sibelius, and locally Schnéevoigt was considered his younger rival. All three pieces are given unsentimental performances, driven hard, but applying flexibility of tempo and phrasing where appropriate. In the last few decades, conductors have tended towards relatively slow performances, especially in the slow movements, thus emphasising the emotional feelings which can be found in the music. This disc will serve as a corrective to this approach, and some listeners will be shocked by these performances. However this disc is of genuine historical importance and lovers of Sibelius should consider buying.
The two performances by Kajanus are especially exciting. That the 6th is perhaps less overwhelming is due most to the nature of the Symphony which is perhaps the most enigmatical work produced by Sibelius and the subtlety of the scoring has most to gain from modern recording. A fascinating release.