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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No 1 in E minor, Op 39 (1899) [37:10]
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43 (1902) [41:56]
Symphony No 5 in E-flat major, Op 82 (1919) [30:46]
Karelia Suite, Op 11 (1893) [12:25]
Pelléas et Mélisande – Incidental Music, JS 147 (1905) [24:45]
RIAS Symphony Orchestra (symphonies), Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jussi Jalas
rec. Berlin c1941-44, (Pelléas, Karelia) and c.1953 (Symphonies)
MAESTRO EDITIONS ME197 [79:09 + 68:34]

Maestro Editions has already reissued a valuable Sibelius twofer in the form of Tauno Hannikainen’s Moscow recordings of around 1957 (see review). Now here’s an equally significant raft of Sibelius performances from a lesser-known interpreter but one whose name has resurfaced of late because of Eloquence’s restoration of his Budapest recordings of 1972-75. These were made with the Hungarian State Symphony and Hungarian National Philharmonic and fill 3CDs on 4823311: the repertoire includes the Four Legends, King Christian, two Tempest suites, Scènes historiques I and II and much else.

The twofer under review, however, traces things further back in time and is all the more important for doing so. First though, a brief word about Jalas (1908-1985), who was born Armas Jussi Veikko Blomstedt. He married Sibelius’ daughter Margareta in 1929 and changed his surname to Jalas in 1944 as Roger Smithson clarifies in his excellent notes. From the end of the war, he worked at the Finnish National Opera – he was chief conductor there from 1958-73 – but travelled, with Sibelius as his repertoire calling card, though he never became an international name, not least because he made very few recordings. You can see him (briefly) conducting in a contemporary tribute film uploaded in good sound and vision on YouTube which is there called ‘Sibelius in Ainola in 1950’.
He orchestrated some Sibelius songs, sung on Ondine by Soile Isokoski, which are well worth tracking down.

The recordings under review seem to fall into two specific time periods. The provisional ‘seem’ is necessary because there is some confusion as to precisely when Jalas recorded the Karelia Suite and the incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande. They were released on Urania LP, an American independent that bought up a swathe of broadcast tapes from post-war East Germany and, given that the LP credits ‘Jussi Blomstedt and the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Berlin’, this presumably relates to the years 1941-44. Given the excellence of German wartime broadcasts one would expect the sound to be fine and it is, with just a little rumble on the LPs. Unlike Kajanus, who recorded the first and third movements of the Karelia Suite, Jalas recorded all three and the Ballade is especially well done here; touching but not overdone. The incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande is largely complete though the third panel, At the Seashore, which Sibelius considered superfluous in concert performance, is omitted. There are some clicks along the way, but this is an astutely paced reading, full of expressive depth and pastoral eloquence.

The three symphonies date from c.1953 and pair Jalas with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, which had been formed by American occupation forces in 1946. The three symphonies were made for Remington and are fascinating documents, revealing stylistic traits that reach back to Sibelius’ favoured Kajanus. The First Symphony opens with deceptive calm before Jalas drives the orchestra forward, the recording barely able to contain the brass and percussion, so expect overload. You’d need a more sympathetic microphone placement to do justice to this and, as I listened, I wondered what the Mercury team could have done with a single microphone, as they were doing in Chicago with Rafael Kubelík at the same time as Jalas was recording in Berlin. Never mind, this is a dramatic reading, brooding, elemental with biting accelerandos. Jalas takes seriously Sibelius’ ‘ma non troppo’ indication in the second movement, just as Kajanus had in London in 1930 with the result that they take exactly – almost to the second – the same tempo. The finale’s running figures are brought out and a great deal in inner part writing is audible, even in an early mono LP such as this which must have been recorded with minimal rehearsal time. The music’s Quasi fantasia elements, its nightmarish qualities, are brought to the fore with great determination and attention to detail.

The Second Symphony was originally coupled with the first ever recording of the Five Humoresques, played by Anja Ignatius, another great Sibelian, who had recorded the Concerto (see review) in Berlin with Armas Järnefelt during the war – at around the time Jalas was performing in the city (Finland and Nazi Germany were then locked in an uneasy pact, principally to protect Finland from the expansionist Soviet Union). The Symphony and Humoresques were released not on LP but were licensed by Remington to Tefifon tape, which could be found in Germany from 1950 to 1962. These tapes held an hour’s music but were sonically inferior to LPs. One major reason for the near-invisibility of the Second Symphony in the marketplace has been the difficulty of transferring these tricky tapes, as the Second was never released in any other form. Here, thanks to Klaus Holzapfel, we can hear it. The outer movements are rather broader than Kajanus but the inner ones very similar to the older man’s approach. Despite Holzapfel’s heroic restoration efforts, there are still imperfections and quite a number of clicks but one can still appreciate Jalas’ approach to tempo relations, wind balancing, the importance of the bass line, the emotive candour of the music and its abrupt, changeable nature, and his employment of strong dynamics. If sound congestion remains problematic, not least in the finale, Jalas and his RIAS forces exert a powerful grip.

The Fifth Symphony sounds to have been cut at a slightly lower level than its symphonic companions. Perhaps it’s this that leads to a slight lowering of tension from time to time – you’ll need to raise the volume a few notches – but it does show how Jalas builds incrementally, architecturally, abjuring passing incident, towards the finale. There’s nothing histrionic about this approach but nor is it measured or lacking in distinction. If, in the final resort, I prefer two other recordings made at around the same time – Tuxen and Collins - that’s not to belittle Jalas.

The inherent imperfections of some of these recordings reflect the tough times in which they were made. Money was tight, time was short, and technology not always the best. Yet Jalas proves he is worth overlooking such limitations and there’s much to learn from this Sibelius insider; a conductor of probity and wisdom. These sessions have more fruit to bear and Maestro Editions will be releasing Ignatius’ recording of the Humoresques in the not-too-distant future.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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