This is just about the finest recording available of these two great later symphonies of the Finnish national master, from his very productive yet largely unheralded Boston tenure of the early 1970's, when he recorded the cycle plus terrific tone poems for Philips Records. Later , Davis dis another cycle for RCA that largely flopped at the record stores and finally a cycle und the newly created London Symphony label of "LSO Live". This was more successful, but still, these BSO interpretations are more robust and Romantic,+ to me. I have the 4 cd's that comprise the 7 symphonies from Boston, plus poems and the concerto with Elmar Olivera, an ok Violin concerto, IF, that is youy like the Sibelius concerto, I'm not a fan of it---too many double stops, too choppy and too much technique and not enough lyricism. I'll pass on it. But, ah, the symphonies are another matter and the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 7th are his best, in my opinion. The 5th here gets an epic open aired and breezy treatment with little restraint on the wonderful BSO brass, as they roar and surge like a Nordic lion taking long firm strides as he surveys his domain. The chirping of the Boston winds remind one of the birds of the forest and , indeed, this symphony has a nature sound to it, but not tamed, and refined culture of Beethoven's Pastoral, but the deep, mysterious recesses of the never ending Northlands of myth and legend and real latitudes. Sibelius lived in the reality of Finland, but he also found it warming and not a difficult task to travel in his mind's eye to the land of the midnight sun, and the eerie and somehow comforting yet never ending twilight. Many people discover that Alaska a bit more than they bargained for, with it's long "nights," and make their way back home to the lower 48. As a retired Radiology Tech, I've talked with many a patient who thought that Anchorage or Fairbanks was their own little utopia of fresh air, abundant wildlife , endless vistas, and limitless adventure, a retirement at the "end of the rainbow". It is breathtaking I'm sure , but it is also a long, long winter and an all too short summer. I could not see myself doing it, though I do admire those who make it somehow. Sibelius had some help, you might say. He drank. And, he drank a lot. Usually whiskey, bourbon and, of course vodka, lots ! of vodka. Folks who knew him said he was, perhaps , an alcoholic. I don't know. He also had plenty of cigars on hand, but then so did Klemperer and so does Barenboim, oddly, one of his disciples. What has geography to do with a composer? Maybe, it came out in his music. I think it did. There is, undoubtedly, an exspansiveness in his 5th and much more so in his 7th that is difficult to explain with out a breath or two of cold air. Some people look at harsh weather and foreboding environs as prohibitive. Some say they stifle the creative spirit and numb , no pun intended, the senses. I disagree. I think they are largely neutral, but in Sibelius' case, they seem to represent a state of feeling and mind of stalwart sense of purpose and a stoic category of motion. Sibelius is a monolithic figure, towering above ordinary human kind, with a granite edifice for an exterior image and an inner poetic songbird at heart. Some of his very best works are his softest utterances and nuances. They are wispers in the still of the night and kisses in the frigid mornings of the North.
Far from being icy and impersonal, he is congenial, humorous and generous when it comes to affairs of the heart. Sample, if you will, the soaring poetry of Kullervo as he comes to grip with the shame of the realization, that he has made love to his sister in his 1899 epic "Kullervo Symphony." and, keep in mind, he is only 25 years old. 25 years old!!! We should stand and cheer this giant of truthfulness, as true as a glass of icewater, in the face. He wears his heart on his sleeve for this homeland of his, much as Smetana, Dvorak and perhaps Vaughan Williams. I came to Sibelius later than I came to Mahler, Bruckner or Shostakovich, as I paid too much attention to the temperature outside, rather than the fire inside, within the soul of the man. Don't be diverted by exteriors, but rather hear him as though he were an Italian or a Spaniard, with the low sun on his face, then slowly allow your mind to creep northwards. There you will find the rewards of a unique and important voice and a significantly interesting master of the orchestra. Granted, Sibelius is not nearly as varied as say, Mendelssohn or even Prokofiev, but he is a singular voice, and one who deserves to be heard, and often.
These works the 5th and 7th Symphonies , along with a good and rhythmic "En Saga" are well done in Colin Davis' good early years of the 1970's and Pentatone's remastering in Super Audio is welcome as I hope they will keep cranking 'em out. Perhaps, some Nielsen Symphonies? Happy Listening---Tony.