On Dec. 8, 1957, a concert was held at Carnegie Hall in New York to commemorate the life and works of Jean Sibelius, who had recently died. Performing were members of the New York Philharmonic, Martti Similä conducting, and the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling. The repertoire was the Symphony No. 4 in A minor, the tone poems Finlandia and En Saga, and five orchestral songs sung in Swedish translation by Björling.
Similä was one of the composer’s favorite conductors of his music. Björling, of course, is one of the great tenors of all time. A splendid performance fortunately documented by an in-house recording but never, until now, released commercially.
The tapes were acquired by the record label Pristine Audio and remastered for digital release by Andrew Rose, using that label’s proprietary XR technology. The British label is justly renowned for its superior remasterings of classic recordings. This release, Sibelius New York Memorial Concert, 1957, PASC 518, can only add to the luster of that reputation. The sound is superior, the equal of any commercial recording of the time.
The value of the two-CD release is immeasurably enhanced by the inclusion of fourteen Sibelius songs sung by the great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Øivin Fjeldstad. The initial commercial recording was produced for the Decca label by the legendary John Culshaw (producer of the Wagner Ring Cycle conducted by Sir Georg Solti) and released in 1958. The use of XR technology by Rose has substantially improved the clarity of the original recording.
For those of us who learned to admire the music of Sibelius through the recordings of the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy conducting, this most recent release on the Pristine Audio label could hardly be more contrasting. The uniquely rich and resonant sound of the Philadelphians conducted by Ormandy created a lush harmonic. It is Sibelius looking back to 19th Century romanticism.
The Symphony No. 4, premiered in 1911, as interpreted by Similä is craggy, grim, and reminiscent of the Finnish homeland of Sibelius. It looks forward to the 20th Century. Björling’s singing, of course, is immaculate, beautifully phrased and perfectly attuned to the orchestral accompaniment. The inclusion of the fourteen songs sung by Flagstad, even at this later stage of her career, is a testament to how these songs should be sung.
Sibelius New York Memorial Concert, 1957
Jussi Björling, tenor
New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Martti Similä
Kirsten Flagstad, soprano
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Øivin Fjeldstad
Pristine Classical PASC518
2 CD Set