This fascinating (and generous, eighty-three minute) release restores some interesting material from the dawn of stereo, bookending Finlandia from Florence and Vittorio Gui (raw and edgy, then exuberant, and soulful without indulgence) and London and George Weldon (more homogenous, rhythmically alert, the Hymn rather self-conscious). The Hymn returns a cappella with heartfelt native males, very appropriate for the number, Opus 18/6, that follows, the songsters then joining the Cincinnati Symphony for the rather Musssorgskian (think Boris and coronations) The Origin of Fire featuring a declamatory baritone soloist as well as the Helsinki gents giving their all, Thor Johnson going on to conduct a glowing and dramatic account of Pohjola’s Daughter (one of Sibelius’s masterworks). Gui also makes a second appearance, with Valse triste, a reading full of moody character, and the revelation is the five-movement String Quartet, music that normally escapes me; a lack of pianissimo aside, the Pascal Quartet gives a suitably confiding, intense and virile interpretation.

Paul Baily’s transfers are excellent, so too the presentation – original artwork, discographical information, and informed/informative essays by Peter Bromley and Tully Potter. FHR85 will be thought ‘outstanding’ by Sibelians, and also those who like to delve into recorded history.

https://firsthandrecords.com/products-page/album/early-stereo-recordings-6-sibelius

Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
1. Finlandia, Op. 26
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Vittorio Gui
(rec. 9–10 October 1953)

2. Finlandia – Hymn (version for male choir) (sung in Finnish)
Helsinki University Chorus / Martti Turunen
(rec. 20 November 1953)

3. Six Part Songs, Op. 18: No. 6. Sydameini laulu (‘Song of my Heart’) (sung in Finnish)
Helsinki University Chorus / Martti Turunen
(rec. 20 November 1953)

4. Tulen synty (‘The Origin of Fire’), Op. 32 (sung in Finnish)
Sulo Saarits baritone
Helsinki University Chorus / Martti Turunen
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Thor Johnson
(rec. 21 November 1953)

5. Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra • Thor Johnson
(rec. 20 November 1953)

6. Valse triste, Op. 44, No. 1
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Vittorio Gui
(rec. 9–10 October 1953)

7–11. String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 ‘Voces intimae’
Pascal Quartet
Jacques Dumont violin I
Maurice Crut violin II
Léon Pascal viola
Robert Salles cello
(recording date unknown but before July 1957)

12. Finlandia, Op. 26
Philharmonia Orchestra / George Weldon
(rec. 12 March 1956)

All first recordings in stereo apart from track 12
Track 4 is the world première recording