PASC186 - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 - Sibelius
N.W.D.R. Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg
conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt Recorded Hamburg, 1956
Taken from Capitol LP 18009 in the collection of John J. Davis
by Edward Johnson
Restoration and XR remastering by Andrew Rose, September 2009
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
This is one of the great recordings of the Second Symphony of Sibelius, and it's something of a mystery as to why it's not been reissued before. We are grateful to ardent Sibelius enthusiast John J Davis for the loan of his LP for this transfer - of his collection 37 recordings of the work this is the only one he rates amongst his personal favourites which has remained stuck in the LP era.
It was excellently received at the time - its UK issue (on Parlophone) was reviewed in The Gramophone in May 1958:
...the recorded quality of the new Parlophone disc is exceptionally good, with an emphasis, in loud moments as well as soft, on clarity. In the case of the timpani there is in fact greater clarity than I can recall ever hearing on disc before, considerably greater than is often the case in the concert hall. The note tells, at whatever dynamic level it may be played ; and its pitch (an infallible one : the Hamburg player is a first-class timpanist) sings out miraculously. Thus the new timpani part to the end of the finale is doubly effective (had this revision, now often heard, Sibelius's authority?*—I do not know, and would much like to) ; and the slow movement, too, gains in many passages. The opening of this movement gains also from the care taken by the 'cellos and basses to avoid using open strings in the pizzicato passages. This is only symptomatic of the extreme care in performance that has been taken throughout ; and the result is rewarding.
Schmidt-Isserstedt for much of the time concentrates on the spaciousness of the music rather than its impulse ; and this might conceivably be held to rob the first movement, and perhaps the finale too, of some small degree of their potential excitement. But the Scherzo is as exciting as can be ; and in any event the view taken of the symphony is an eminently reasonable one.
This reading, allied to the excellent qualities of both the performance and the recording are sufficient to make the new Parlophone version of this symphony a formidable one...
I'm pleased to report that, with XR remastering and the judicious use of Ambient Stereo processing (optional) this 'exceptionally good' sound quality is further improved - although the original production by legendary Decca producer John Culshaw (who worked on a series of recordings for Capitol in 1956-7) was certainly of the highest quality for its day, a certain constriction in the broad strings of this work is clearly evident when played alongside this newly remastered version, and overall the orchestral sound is more fully rounded throughout.
The Second Symphony was one of my first introductions to the music of Sibelius in my early teens and made a great impression on me then. The present recording serves as an excellent reminder of why I enjoy this work so much - highly recommended in every respect. It also persuaded me to listen again to what is currently the only other recording offered by Pristine that was conducted by Schmidt-Isserstedt - the 1937 Kulenkampff/BPO world première recording of Schumann's Violin Concerto (PASC004) which was among the twelve recordings that constituted our entire catalogue when we launched in February 2005 - if you've not heard it I'd strongly recommend giving it a listen!
*NB. The present recording includes a revised timpani part at the end of the finale from the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. Although it never received the approval of the composer, so was never officially incorporated into the published score, Koussevitzky's revision has been taken up by others besides Schmidt-Isserstedt (though not by any Finnish conductors), including Anthony Collins and Sir Charles Mackerras:
"In the recordings conducted by Serge Koussevitzky (1935 and 1950) there are audible additional Timp. tones, and in Sibelius’s Handexemplar of the study score (PB 3323, in Ainola), the composer pencilled in bb. 359, 363, 365, and 369 in his later years at 1/2 quarter notes G and d, which may refer to Koussevitzky’s additions. However, Sibelius did not accept Koussevitzky’s additions, as can be deduced from conductor Eric Woodward’s answer to the composer’s letter (Woodward’s letter dated 20 December, 1946; National Archives of Finland, Sibelius Family Archive, file box 32; Sibelius’s letter has not been preserved), and Woodward’s letter to Koussevitzky (dated 16 June, 1950; Library of Congress, Koussevitzky Archive, 56:16). No Finnish conductor contemporary to Sibelius adopted these additions. I hope this will make it a little bit clearer.
Unfortunately, there are such "traditions" which are followed by conductors without any real evidence whether they come from the composer or not.
Kari Kilpeläinen. [Editor, Sibelius Edition]"
"...if Sibelius was behind the additions in the timpani part audible in the Koussevitzky recordings, then Finnish conductors (for instance, Robert Kajanus) would also have adopted those additions. Sibelius was aware of the Koussevitzky recording but clearly did not accept the additions. Because the Koussevitzky recordings have raised this question, we have added the following information in our Addenda and Corrigenda list on Breitkopf & Härtel's website: [LINK]
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (5 May 1900Berlin – 28 May 1973, Holm-Holstein, Germany) was a German conductor and composer. He studied music in Heidelberg and Münster. He was also a composition student with Franz Schreker at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and received a doctorate in 1923. He was a repetiteur at the Wuppertal Opera starting in 1923. He held conducting positions at the opera houses of Rostock (1928 - 1931) and Darmstadt (1931 - 1933). He had the post of first conductor at the Hamburg State Opera from 1935 to 1943. In 1944, he was named music director at the Berlin State Opera.
In 1945, after the end of World War II, the British military authorities invited Schmidt-Isserstedt to found an orchestra at the North German Radio in Hamburg. In six months, he assembled the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted its first concert in November 1945. He was subsequently the orchestra's first principal conductor. He became an advocate of music by composers whose music had been outlawed in Germany, such as Bartók, Stravinsky and Hindemith, during the Nazi regime. His favortite composer, however, was Mozart, and Schmidt became associated with his music through several recordings and notable performances of his works. In particular his recordings of Mozart's operas Idomeneo and La finta giardiniera are greatly admired.
From 1955 to 1964, he was principal conductor also of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducted memorable performances of Le nozze di Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1958, and of Tristan und Isolde at Royal Opera, Covent Garden in 1962.
He made a well-regarded recording of all the Beethoven symphonies. In Germany, Schmidt-Isserstedt was a noted champion of the music of Michael Tippett. Schmidt-Isserstedt's own compositions included songs, the opera Hassan gewinnt (Rostock, 1928), and works for orchestra. His son was the British record producer Erik Smith.
Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 43 was started in winter 1900 in Rapallo, Italy, and finished in 1902 in Finland. It was first performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society on 8 March 1902 with the composer conducting. After the first performance, Sibelius made some revisions, and the revised version was given its first performance by Armas Järnefelt on 10 November 1903 in Stockholm. It is in four movements, with the third movement and the finale played attacca:
Allegretto - Poco allegro - Tranquillo, ma poco a poco ravvivando il tempo all'allegro - Poco largamente - Tempo I - Poco allegro
Tempo andante, ma rubato - Poco allegro - Molto largamente - Andante sostenuto - Andante con moto ed energico - Allegro - Poco largamente - Molto largamente - Andante sostenuto - Andante con moto ed energico - Andante - Pesante
Vivacissimo - Lento e soave - Tempo primo - Lento e soave - (attacca)
Finale: Allegro moderato - Moderato assai - Meno moderato e poco a poco ravvivando il tempo - Tempo I - Largamente e pesante - Poco largamente - Molto largamente
The duration is approximately 45 minutes.
In Finland, this popular work with its grandiose finale was connected with the struggle for Finland's independence, even being dubbed the "Symphony of Independence" as it was written at a time of Russian sanctions on Finnish language and culture. Sibelius's reaction to this has been widely debated; some claim that he had not intended any patriotic message and was purely identified as a nationalist composer, while others believe that he wrote the piece with an independent Finland in mind.
Tying in with Sibelius' philosophy on the art of the symphony (the Finnish composer wrote that he "admired [the symphony's] severity of style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motifs...") The work grows almost organically out of a rising three-note motif heard at the opening of the work, which, after appearing in many guises throughout the entire symphony (and indeed forming the basis for most of the material) forms the dramatic theme of the finale.
The first recording was made by Robert Kajanus with the London Symphony Orchestra for the HMV label in May 1930.
NB. The present recording includes a revised timpani part at the end of the finale from the conductor Serge Koussevitzky which, although it received the approval of the composer, was never officially incorporated into the published score of the work.