Tjeknavorian/RPO: Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 - RCA LRL1 5134, stunning!
Jacket EX / LP EX / UK pressing
This superlative LP from RCA (LRL1 5134, English pressing, Red Seal label, stereo) features Loris Tjeknavorian and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s commanding and atmospheric accounts of Sibelius’ Symphonies No. 4 in A minor Op. 63 and No. 5 in E-flat Major Op. 82, atmospherically recorded in the warm acoustics of Barking Town Hall, London in July 1976 (producer: Charles Gerhardt).
Wrote the eminent critic Robert Layton in his review for the November 1976 issue of The Gramophone:
“Readers will recall the fine Ormandy record (Philips mono ABL3084, 7/56) that first coupled these two symphonies, the only one apart from the present issue to do so. The two works are separated by more than a decade, though it was a period that irrevocably changed the world. Had Sibelius been a more predictable artist, the bleak, tragic statement of the Fourth Symphony would have followed the 1914-18 war rather than preceded it, though the very first version of the Fifth shows the latter in a very different light from the strong, epic work it became in 1919. Loris Tjeknavorian is a serious and thoughtful interpreter, and in neither of these two readings do we find him trying to score interpretative points or playing to the gallery, though there are inevitably aspects of both readings that will not appeal to all tastes. To start with both works are played with scarcely any break between movements. This may be interpretatively justifiable in the Fourth: the first two movements and the last two are linked together by a pivot-note, so that each movement presents the new key in the light of its predecessor; this is particularly telling in the case of the finale which shows A major in a darker light because of its relationship with the C sharp minor of the slow movement. In the case of the Fifth Symphony, however, I can see no justification for the one- or two-second pause before we plunge into a new movement, and the effect is disconcerting and insensitive. Had Sibelius wanted these three movements played attacca or segue, he would have marked the score accordingly. He had doubts about the first and second movements in the original 4-movement version, which I have heard; hence he reworked it twice, fashioning it into an organic whole.
“In the Fourth Symphony tempi are generally fast, so much so that the finale, which is measured, seems slow, at least on first playing. The gain in tautness is offset by a certain loss of atmosphere particularly in the first movement development and through the bulk of the slow movement. The very opening is extremely fast, and Tjeknavorian makes the undulating F sharp and E toll in bell-like fashion rather than whisper mysteriously as did, say, Beecham (now on World Records mono SH133, 9/70). There is a good sense of the music's power here, and my chief reservation really centres on the slow movement which communicates too little of the mysterious, other-worldly, almost oriental landscape and the rapt, rhapsodic, musing quality that lies at its centre. Tjeknavorian's finale is slower since here he follows the example of Ansermet and Bernstein in using tubular bells in the finale instead of glockenspiel. Some five years ago when I was in Finland, I had an opportunity to read through the correspondence between Sibelius and Beecham concerning the HMV Sibelius Society recording of 1936, which came into being after the composer had ruled against releasing Schneevoigt's 1933 recording, made at a public concert in London. Hence, everything in the Beecham version was in accord with Sibelius's intentions. He asked for bells, not tubular bells nor glockenspiel, though the latter is the better approximation to the small set of bells that was used in the 1936 recording. However, this is less important, perhaps, than the coda whose spirit of resignation and despair seem to elude this artist, who takes understatement to the point of undercharacterization. Having said this, I must in fairness stress that there are fine things in this performance, as indeed there are in the Fifth Symphony on the reverse side. Tjeknavorian judges the tempo at the outset of this Symphony quite superbly and the opening pages (indeed the bulk of the movement) have an appropriate sense of space and grandeur. The transition to the faster section, originally a separate movement, is expertly judged, and the reprise of the second group (letter H) is beautifully done. The Andante movement is taken very briskly indeed, but without loss of poetry and atmosphere; indeed, there is some nicely observed detail including some poetic oboe playing eight bars after letter H. I liked the way the famous "Thor's hammer" theme in the finale glows and the accompanying texture is imaginatively handled.
“Turning to the sound, I can report that detail is very clearly observed: the listener is fairly forwardly placed so that every strand in the texture tells. The strings have warmth and body, and the perspective between them and the wind is musically judged. Perhaps some listeners will find the timpani excessively prominent: this worried me slightly on a first playing as for that matter did some of the horn detail in the finale of the Fourth, but a second hearing at a marginally different level served to bring this into better focus. As far as balance and fidelity, there need be no serious reservations; the performances are thoughtful, though personally I think that both Karajan (DG 138 974, 6/66) and Maazel (Decca SXL6365, 3/69) get nearer the heart of the Fourth than does this newcomer, while in No. 5, the abrupt attacca after the first and second movements would prompt me to turn to either Karajan (DG 138 973, 9/65), Barbirolli (HMV ASD2326, 12/67), Bernstein (CBS 73162, 9/73) or looking further back, Kajanus (World Records mono SH173-4, 4/73). However, these thought-provoking performances are well worth investigating and, of course, the coupling represents a considerable saving. Surfaces are exemplary.”
Incidentally, the superlative liner notes (in English only) are by Ates Orga. The striking cover photo of Tjeknavorian was taken by Clive Barda, London.
The gradations of condition I use are as follows: MINT, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
The condition of the jacket is EXCELLENT. There is slight creasing on the front panel near the spine, as well as some evidence of shelfwear, but that is all. However, there are no seamsplits, bends, owners' markings, or other defects and the album remains solid, bright, glossy, and quite striking in appearance – overall, an excellent collector's copy.
The condition of the LP itself is EXCELLENT++ and the playback is superb. I will cannot say the surfaces are absolutely flawless, but they are nearly so. I believe this is an unplayed copy, aside from the audition spin I gave it – overall, this rates as a very fine collector's copy.