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Debussy & Sibelius

Debussy Ibéria

Sibelius Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 4

LPO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste; Henning Kraggerud violin

About one note...

An absorbing, well attended LPO concert, which began with a colourful Ibéria. Saraste brought out all the exotic Spanishry which Debussy featured; for me, it was far more engaging, and is a better concert item, than Ravel's Daphne et Chloé a few days before.

The concerto began well, and came up to the gallery strongly from Kraggerud's Guarneri (I had relinquished my stalls press ticket to my wife...). However, it did not quite equal a splendid new performance on CD received only last week [DUX 0336 Soyoung Yoon] with the usual coupling to Tchakovsky's. But it seemed to unravel in the finale, which I felt Saraste started too fast? Kraggerud seemed to have a problem keeping up, and then tuning went awry (he turned back, to make corrections, I thought). There was an unannounced encore with the orchestra, which the LPO tells me was 'Veslemøys Sang' by Johan Halvorsen, which no one knew. Odd !

Sibelius 4 was undoubtedly the most engaging and thought-provoking item in this concert, if rather a dark way to finish it - the background was all well covered in the programme book's Speedread (sic) for those who bought it - mostly advertsements...

But one note niggled, the first from the LPO's "guest principal cellist". It seemed too light to launch the stark 4th? So I checked against my memories of that whole phrase as heavier and portentous, quickly confirmed by a couple of on line YouTube recordings.

But with the full score easily brought up [L], it seems that Saraste and Josephine Knight were right and Sibelius perhaps wrong to mark it as a semi-quaver? The applause at the end was prolonged, and notably so from the orchestra for this conductor, who had left no detail of this problematic score unexamined.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 4

Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vanska

BIS 1996

One hoped that Vanska would resolve the semi-quaver conundrum in the 4th, but no, it is neither performed nor discussed in this latest version in the BIS series, which is backed by the foremost Sibelius scholars. So, Saraste and Josephine Knight (above) lead for me, and the rapt, stunned atmosphere in the Festival Hall will remain in the memory long after this new disc, the 4th heard inappropriately over breakfast...

Robert Bahr invokes Andrew Barnett*, Fabian Dahlstrom and other pundits on this gigantic project. Perhaps one of them might offer Musical Pointers an Article on that semiquaver, which is ignored in as many of the numerous versions on YouTube that I've sampled?

That apart, these are strong accounts of both symphonies, but do we really need another version?


* Andrew Barnett thinks it's just a matter of phrasing. "Probably J-P S just wanted a slightly more active start to the phrase. It would sound dreadfully drawn out with a full-length quaver As I say, none of these conductors will have had access to the manuscript score (which Sibelius may anyway have changed before publication). Ah, Kajanus's Fifth... [my first experience of Sibelius on an EMG horn gramophone !] ... a triumph of aspiration over execution - but a document of tremendous importance nonetheless."