Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

xxx

  • A KILLER copy of Finlandia with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound.

I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. The Decca we have here may be a budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by real Decca engineers (a few different ones in fact), pressed in England on high quality vinyl, and from fairly fresh tapes (nine years old, not fifty years old!), then mastered about as well as a record can be mastered. The sound is, above all, REAL and BELIEVABLE.

The brass has weight, the top extends beautifully for those glorious cymbal crashes, the hall is huge and the staging very three-dimensional — there is little to fault in the sound on either side.

What Outstanding Sides Such as These Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Finlandia

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A Must Own Classical Record

This Orchestral Spectacular should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Sibelius – Finlandia
Sibelius – Valse Triste (From Kuolema)
Grieg – Two Elegiac Melodies

Heart Wounds
The Last Spring

Side Two

Wedding Day At Troldhaugen
Sibelius – King Christian, Suite For Orchestra

1. Elegie
2. Musette

Sibelius – Pelléas Ande Mélisande, Suite For Orchestra

No. 7. Entr’acte

Grieg – Two Melodies, No. 2:

Cow – Keepers Tune
Country Dance

Finlandia – Description by Brian Wise

Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia became the composer’s most enduring work in part because of the political climate in Finland at the time of its creation. Russia imposed a strict censorship policy on the small nation in 1899. In October of that year, Sibelius composed a melodrama to Finnish writer Zachria Topelius’ poem The Melting of the Ice on the Ulea River, which is marked by a particularly patriotic fervor; “I was born free and free will I die” is typical of its sentiments, and one of which Sibelius took particular note. The following month saw a fund-raising gala organized by the Finnish press. While its ostensible purpose was to raise money for newspaper pension funds, it was in fact a front for rallying support for a free press at a time when the czarist hold on the country was tightening.

Sibelius extracted six tableaux from his melodrama for a performance intended to provide a celebratory end to the gathering on November 4. Innocuously titled Music for Press Ceremony, the score concluded with “Finland Awakens,” which Sibelius reworked into an independent symphonic poem in the following year. Following the suggestion of his artistic confidant Axel Carpelan, he retitled this rousing patriotic essay Finlandia; since that time, the work has virtually become Finland’s second national anthem. Because of censorship restrictions, the work was most often performed under the not-altogether-apt title Impromptu until Finland gained independence following World War I.

The work opens with a questioning, vaguely ominous brass progression that evokes the “powers of darkness” from Topelius’ text, setting off a colorful drama that is at turns reflective, jubilant, and militant. Most famous, though, is a hymn-like theme which makes its first appearance in an atmosphere of quiet reverence; by the end of the work, it has become a powerful statement of triumph. Indeed, Finlandia is a clear precursor to the composer’s symphonies, in which the orchestra so often assumes the role of an ever-strengthening, defiant juggernaut.