Hearing these extremely well scrubbed-up recordings reminded me how unsentimental a conductor Kajanus was. In his Sibelius things are kept moving briskly; there are very few dewy-eyed moments. Listen to the way he pushes the orchestra in the gulped and galloped close of the first movement. Then try the conspiratorial and sweetly pressurised tension of the finale at (4.46). On the other hand he is content to allow a gentle pointillism to register its own effect in the Andante Mosso.
Kajanus’s Tapiola is even more impressive. Every little shudder and tremor registers in perfectly balanced gradation. Even the woodwind shrieks at 3.20 are given without the overlay of emphasis we find in most modern performances. They come and go with inhuman concentration. This version of Tapiola brought out powerfully the evolution of Sibelius’s character from the romantic hell-raiser of En Saga to the forbidding mage of the Northern forests in Tapiola. Kajanus makes a deeply impressive gale which plies the Finnish saplings double (14.02-15:01). Even his progressive diminution of the gale is grippingly done; such is the control he exercises.
The documentation is good and extensive in English only. There’s a welcome technical note from Andrew Rose who has virtually eliminated high frequency hiss. He has also removed most of the crackling ‘bacon frying’ sound so typical of HMV 78s of the 1930s. That this detritus has gone and that he has managed to preserve the impact of music-making now getting on for eighty years old merits high praise. I hope we will hear more from Mr Rose in the future. Incidentally, I also hope that his commitment to Divine Art projects will not prevent his keeping his immensely valuable Moeran website up to date.
Georg Schnéevoigt and his Helsinki Symphony Orchestra were seen as adversaries of Kajanus and his Helsinki Orchestral Society. After the Great War the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestral Society were merged. Both Kajanus and Schnéevoigt (1872-1947) are unsentimental yet generate plenty of atmosphere. Both keep things moving along. It is this refusal to dawdle that marks out Schnéevoigt’s version of the Sixth Symphony. His orchestra are pushed to their limits and beyond. Beecham’s RPO in 1947 managed things better but for a modern recording let me strongly recommend Sakari Oramo’s powerhouse of a performance on Warner-Erato.
Divine Art beat Naxos to the draw with cleaned up revivals of these 1930s historicals. If you do not already have these and are a dedicated Sibelian then there is no reason to hold back. Given their historical sound these cannot be first recommendations but the Sibelian spirit burns brightly in these readings made during the lifetime of the composer even if the 1930s marked the start of three decades of silence from Järvenpäa.
Unsentimental yet not clinical readings. Historically significant for dedicated Sibelians. Perhaps you object to the Naxos or Pearl approach of leaving in place the hiss and crackle stigmata of the 1930s. Here Andrew Rose’s sprucing up has produced highly listenable recordings which represent a more interventionist approach than some fundamentalists favour. I hope that Divine Art and Andrew Rose will now look at the other Sibelius Society issues. When they are done and dusted I have the highest hopes that they might tackle Boult’s superb 1950s recordings of the tone poems.