Conductor Foster Beyers is the newly appointed Director of Orchestras at Concodia College in Minnesota. He is currently completing his Doctorate degree at the University of Minnesota, where his dissertation is on the recorded history of Sibelius’ Symphony no. 7. He’s also along time Vftp reader and frequent, and valued, commenter. With Sibelius 7 very much on my radar and that of my colleagues in the orchestra over in Guildford, I asked Foster if he could give us a sneak peak into his research and offer his Top 5 essential recordings of this great piece.
Readers are warmly invited to offer your own lists, or perhaps just to pick a record that has special meaning for you. Perhaps there was a live performance you heard that shaped your feelings for the piece?
Your question about the 5 best Sibelius 7 recordings is intriguing. After careful consideration I have compiled the following.(arranged in no particular ranking).
1. Serge Kousseveitsky and the BBC Symphony – This is the first ever recording of the work made in 1933, only 9 years after the premiere. It is astoundingly well played and well recorded as well as being very exciting and dramatic. [Ed. note: this is a seriously great recording which you can hear on YouTube]
2. Osmo Vanska and the Lahti Symphony – This recording is now the standard bearer for Sibelius interpretation. It is probably closest to the score (with a few notable exceptions) and seems to capture the particularly icy way in which the Finns play Sibelius. They will have none of the warm, lush Sibelius style so common in England as typified by Colin Davis.
3. Paavo Berglund and the Helsinki Philharmonic – This often quirky recording seems to capture the epic nature of the work and is the best of his three recordings. The one with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is interesting but ultimately lacks weight while the more recent recording with the London Philharmonic (with alot of comically audible grunts and groans from the maestro) is more quirky and less epic
4. Leif Segerstam and the Danish National Radio Symphony – OK, so Segerstam is Finnish but he does seem to favor a lush, warm string sound. This recording is the most emotional,thrilling, and dramatic (even Wagnerian) recording of the work ever made. He goes for atmosphere and character and the score be damned. I like it.
5. Karajan and the Philharmonia – This is the only recording we know for certain that Sibelius approved. He always said he liked the details to “swim in the sauce” and they certainly do in this very slow and rich performance.
Dishonorable mention: Any recording by Beecham. Although the conductor was personally acquainted with the composer I find his recordings of this particular symphony to be way off base in their extreme speed and lack of sensitivity. It gets a dishonorable mention because I am pretty sure Beecham is the reason Sibelius is quoted as saying conductors don’t know how to conduct a real adagio anymore. This caused him to create a list of metronome markings for all his symphonies, a huge advantage for interpreters today!
You can see Foster’s own take on the piece with him conducting the University of Minnesota Symph over at YouTube here.