Friday, 2 April 2010
Sibelius at home III: tributes
The gramophone collection at Ainola is mostly a comprehensive collection of Sibelius's own music, in test pressings and finished 78s. Possibly all the outsiders were unsolicited gifts, which is maybe why the library of scores gives us a better idea of his extra-Finnish tastes. The middle-period Vaughan Williams symphonies, for instance, are all there, complementing the above gift - pictured above left - from the British Council of the masterly Sixth (VW dedicated his rather less eventful Fifth to Sibelius; I always think it should be heard between 4 and 6, just as the last three Sibelius symphonies can be played together).
On the right above is the first test disc of two signed by Eugene Ormandy and all the players of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1951 of their recording of 'The Swan of Tuonela' from the Lemminkainen Suite (in which Ormandy excelled, and to which he returned for EMI in later life).
I was especially curious to hear a pressing or two, especially some Leeds Festival discs of The Tempest music - were these simply forerunners, I wonder, of Beecham's wonderful recording? - but curator Hilkka Helminen didn't quite trust the needle of Sibelius's trusty but possibly rusty radiogram.
Picking up on my Russian connections, Hilkka also showed me a real treasure - a beautifully bound homage from the Union of Soviet Composers to Sibelius on his 80th birthday. Of course I nearly gasped with astonishment to see that my main man had written the opening theme of his newly-composed Fifth Symphony in his entry
and that Shostakovich, with a few words of respectful birthday greetings, proferred the finale of his Ninth
both of them reminding us of the symphony's continuing vitality as a form in 1945, long after Sibelius had officially given up on it. Hilkka also told me that Vladimir Jurowski, visiting Ainola a couple of years ago, had been both moved and surprised to find a dedication in the same volume from his grandfather.
An apt footnote, while we're on the subject of Sibelius on disc: I've only just learned that Danish conductor Ole Schmidt has died at the age of 81.
I've heard precious few of Schmidt's recordings but I became addicted to his Sibelius Five with the RPO when it was reissued on the bargain Regis label and was listening to it only a couple of days ago. His style is bracing - clear and bright, no chiaroscuro - and I was quite taken aback by the anguished peak of his 'Swan of Tuonela'. Unlike Vanska, whose Sibelius I found so disappointing live, Schmidt seems to know when and how to unleash the big climaxes - no easy task in the opening composite-movement of the revised Fifth.