During the early period of the pandemic lockdown in Great Britain in 2020 I took the opportunity of my enforced idleness to explore my LP collection. I bought a new turntable and set too, listening to a variety of LPs. In my Sibelius collection I discovered three that I had long neglected:
Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra:
Symphonies Nos 1 (recorded on 13/10/45) and 7 (recorded on 20/4/46)
Symphonies Nos 5 (recorded on 5/1/46) and 6 (recorded on 9/3/46).
These were from live broadcasts, issued on the Rococo Label. They perhaps represent some differences of view set down by the great Sibelius champion to his other performances largely represented by his various commercial recordings. Taken on the wing so to speak they show Koussevitzky in great form in front of live and home audiences declaring his love and admiration for Sibelius.
Antero Saike conducting the Symphony Orchestra of Olympia:
Issued by Allegro Elite label. After a number of listens to this LP I became intrigued as to how such an interesting performance could be performed by an unknown conductor and orchestra. After lots of investigations on line I was pretty certain this LP was, in fact, a recording made by Nils-Eric Fougstedt with his then Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The coupling was incorrect. It was music from Pelléas et Mélisande. This helped to validate the real participants due to the knowledge that this programme was broadcast on Finnish radio in 1953 and the authority heard in the playing and conducting could logically have come from a Finnish maestro at that time. My investigations pointed to a common practice in America in the 1950’s of copyright deceit by cheap American LP labels to circumvent European laws. This was done widely by inventing non-existing conductors, soloists and orchestras thereby saving a fortune on fees etc. I sought advice from a number of respected music lovers with knowledge of this practice and we all concluded the LP I had was indeed by the Finnish performers as above. The importance of this conclusion became more and more evident to me. By 1953 there were no recordings of the Seventh Symphony made by Finnish conductors and so we had no evidence of a performing tradition in this last symphony by Sibelius. Sibelius was still alive and well and would likely to have made his views known on performances he heard, at least over time. So answers to questions we all seek in this one movement masterpiece, such as tempi relationships, dynamics, balances etc could be heard for the first time from a conductor for whom Sibelius had a high respect. One question has always hung over this work. How long should it take to conduct? With the plethora of recordings now available we can hear durations ranging from 16+ minutes to over 24 minutes. This is amazing in such a short work. Maestro Fougstedt takes just over 18 minutes which is shorter to performances we hear today, normally over 20 minutes.
Since our issuing this recording a new historic broadcast of the Seventh Symphony has been issued on the Pristine label of a live performance from New York in 1939. This is a concert conducted by Georg Schnéevoigt with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Symphonies Nos 2 and 7 plus the world premiere of two of the Lemminkäinen Legends in their revised versions made shortly earlier by Sibelius. This might have thrown new light on, at least, how long another Finnish conductor took in the Seventh Symphony before Sibelius’s death in 1957. Alas the early part of the work is omitted as the announcer’s introduction took precedence over the start of the performance! So we remain with the guidance from Nils-Eric Fougstedt for some sense of how the Seventh was conducted in the era of Sibelius’s lifetime, both in time and content.
Coupled with the Fougstedt recordings is a rare Decca recording of the popular Violin Concerto, made by Janine Andrade again supported by Fougstedt and his Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I had long cherished hearing, let alone owning, this 10” LP and my incarceration at home gave me plenty of time to figure out how to achieve this! I tracked the availability down to a German based web site and paid the required price like a shot. It was too good to miss. My note on the CD explains the career of Madame Andrade and her sad demise and subsequent early death. Not only is this the only known CD version of her performance it is also one to cherish from a contemporary of the better-known French virtuoso, Ginette Neveu, who also tragically met her early death in a plane crash. Her recording of the Sibelius Concerto has been famous since its issue in 1947.
Our thanks go to Mark Obert-Thorn, one of the finest and most respected re-mastering specialists in the world. Also to Paul Terry for his support and insights into the delivery of these historic and rare recordings
More recently the Society has been able to issue another invaluable CD taken from broadcasts in the 1940’s by a doyen of Sibelius interpretation, Armas Järnefelt, Sibelius’s brother-in-law no less. Again we hear many examples in early performance tradition in both Symphonies Nos 2 and 6. Both are faster than we normally hear today, the Second markedly so.
Our thanks go to Roger Smithson and Paul Terry for their guidance and support as to availability and production of this remarkable CD.