Sibelius: Tone Poems & Incidental Music, Telarc CD-80320, Atlanta S.O./Levi (1993).
When i first heard this cd, i was immediately impressed by the majestic sound and hearty interpretation these beloved classical pieces have received ; only God knows why Levi and the Atlanta Symphony were not looked upon with more attention. I agree with the other reviewer that this orchestra achieves "the perfect Arctic chill-in-the-air atmosphere necessary." Undeniably, this album sounds great and does not "Americanize" the Finnish sonorities of such marvelous music. The exception here, perhaps, is 'Finlandia', a startling orchestral extravaganza--and a well-known piece--which needs fierce energy. Here it receives an urgent, muscular treatment which certainly produces lots of sparks ; however, i still prefer Fennell's powerhouse recording for Mercury--by and large, the finest American interpretation of the work.
I come to disagree with Tom Godell's commentary [...] that the Levi/Telarc renderings are "bloodless performances [ . . . ] without any feeling" : I think Levi's technique is, on the contrary, quite sensible and astute in regards to those compositions from Sibelius. The music--in particular on 'Karelia', 'Swan of Tuonela' and 'En Saga'--has that appropriate coldness, and without sacrificing drive it maintains a right "fringe" on the penetrating Nordic silence that resounds in the distance. In a recording of, say, 'Karelia Suite', if you can't feel the sense of space or if you simply lose track of the requisite effects, then the final result will hardly sound like Finland or Sibelius. Levi and the Atlanta S.O. got it right definitely, from start to "Finnish"...
The Atlanta performers and Yoel Levi brought out a hell of a good record, packaged with some fine Telarc sound. No wonder Stereophile® have included this cd in their ''1994 Records To Die For''. According to reviewer Lewis Lipnick, the recording has "a breath of fresh air. [. . .] The dark, brooding colors and dramatic, dynamic contrasts he injects into Sibelius's rich orchestration are nothing short of breathtaking. [. . .] A recording not to be missed". *****