Amazingly enough, this is one of the very few Sibelius recordings of the Symphony No. 2 that I haven't heard; but recently, and luckily, I had the opportunity to do so. And, naturally, such a glorious work always reveals something new, especially in the hands of a conductor such as Sir John, something evocative, something inspirational.
Sir John's understanding of Sibelius is complete, his grip on the composer's intentions undeniable. The music is brought to pristine clarity, with hidden melodic lines boldly forward and thematic unity urgently struck. The balance between grandeur, solemnity and emotional weight are perfectly judged.
Thus, the opening Allegretto masterfully builds to that most beautiful of climaxes--- the exact kind that sends empathetic shivers of joy down the spine!--- and then recedes in the faintest nostalgia.
The Andante retains a unique blend of "misterioso" elements inevitably enmeshed with Sibelian romanticism and nationalist fervor. With the utmost command of the score, Barbirolli delves into the Finnish heart as no other.
With the final movements, Vivacissimo and Allegro Moderato, the real tour de force unfolds with sweeping majesty. The transitions within this combined finale are breathtaking: the brass ring out, the strings are full and potently effective. The threads that hold the symphony together are boldly bristling with a compelling unanimity that simply stuns.
Recorded in 1962, under the auspices of Engineer Ken Wilkinson and Producer Charles Gerhardt, Sir John's performance with The Royal Philharmonic is a timeless treasure of immense emotional impact. We owe a debt of gratitude to Chesky Records for committing such a masterwork to CD.
[Running time: 43:54]