Author Topic: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony  (Read 1113 times)

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Offline aukhawk

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Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« on: March 06, 2017, 01:09:36 AM »
Another week, another mini-blind comparison.
Here are 10 samples from recordings of Sibelius' 7th symphony, in C.

The samples are about 5:15 long on average, and start around 6-7 minutes in to the symphony.  Although the symphony is cast in a single movement about 22-23 minutes long, what we have here is essentially the 'scherzo' section. (A few recordings do in fact have a track-break at the point where this music starts.) 
So about an hour in total, or if you like, just pick 1-5 or 6-10, and report on those.  Or dip in halfway through, to just audition the big climax which is the main focus of this comparison.

These live links will be removed after 2 weeks.
[links removed]

Almost immediately after the music starts, we have a trademark Sibelian gear-shift, the first of several in this extract.  I think these should be sort-of imperceptible, like a chauffeur moving through the gears so smoothly you don't spill the champagne.
This is followed by a strangely stifled half-climax for the brass, then a long (by Sibelius' standards) woodwind-led section which sounds to me like birdsong calling back and forth across a broad valley.  About 3 minutes in, a huge swirling climax starts to take shape, this time driven by the lower strings and punctuated by tympani, this music is all about low-end grunt.  It's one of my favourite passages in all of orchestral music. 


« Last Edit: March 21, 2017, 04:01:54 AM by aukhawk »

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2017, 10:01:21 AM »
A symphony I own one version of, but am not sure I have ever listened to it. A composer I find hard to get terribly excited about. Together, not one I have so much knowledge of. Which means, of course, that I will jump at the opportunity!

Time to read up a little before I listen. When will you close this one?
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2017, 01:53:55 AM »
amw's "1 week" format was successful, I thought.  I'm not sure that's practical here given the volume of material, but I'll aim for 2 weeks with an absolute deadline of 'before Easter'.  The live links will in any case be removed in 2 weeks, though they may still be available on application to me via PM.

It was painful reducing the field to 10, and many really worthwhile recordings both old and new have been crowded out, unfortunately.

Offline Mahlerian

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2017, 12:03:25 PM »
1. String section feels smallish.  Good control of rhythmic flow, though a bit sluggish overall.
2. From the beginning I like the sound of this one better.  The individual events feel more meaningful, and there's more momentum.
3. A bit more muted than either of the previous.  The rhythmic jerk about 1/3 of the way through feels forced.  Not especially exciting.
4. The individual strands of the music feel alive here.  The fast section is very fast, but it doesn't feel willful.  Engaging all the way through the climax.
5. Strings sound soupy.  Change in tempo feels very forced.  Climax plays out pretty well though.
6. Not too assertive, but nicely lilting in the scherzando portions.
7. I like the balance achieved here.  Still, lacking in that last measure of force.
8. Winds stand out a little more here, which makes the sonority strongly Sibelian.  Transitions handled excellently, but climax is perhaps a bit muted.
9. A bit recessed in sound.  Middling interpretation.
10. Harsher and more impetuous at first, then a hesitant scherzando which is effective all the same. I like the individual elements in this one, but the connections between them could be stronger.

Ranking: 4, 8, 2, 10, 6, 7, 1, 9, 5, 3

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2017, 07:32:16 PM »
I had some time. Comments:
1. Ok. A bit Ravelian in the beginning.  Lacks intensity.
2. Very well played. One can really fell the long line here. Build up and release are extremely well done. Bravo.
3. Not bad.  A bit fuller than #1. Lows are quite full. Runs seem more unsure at first. Build up isn't really allowed to bloom at the top - not like #2. And then release lacks as well.
4. A hair faster to start. Beginning of buildup starts a bit too early/full and thus it doesn't have quite the effectiveness at the top and with the subsequent release (which isn't as good as #2 in any case).
5.  This one has a nice start, but then perhaps slows too much. Does get a bit Ravelian like #1. Middle loses steam a bit. Climax is ok, but doesn't have the same effect as the best.
6. A bigger start here. Runs are nice, but episodic. Blander in balance. Buildup is nicely done. Climax not quite as good, but then release is still there.
7. Lighter, leaner feel. I like this. It creates more wavelike changes in the early going. Early middle perhaps loses momentum, but this is regained in spades, especially when it feels like there is wind blowing - loved this section. Loved the runs too. Climax is well done, though not quite the high of #2 (or even #9), but it breathes. Really enjoyed.   
8. Starts bigger. Creates a nice early climax, but would have been better with more contrast from the start. Never seems to get quiet enough. Generally good though a bit exhausting on the ears, even after just 5 minutes.
9. Didn't really like certain details, but it creates an effective view. It also feels like it is always moving from something and to something. Interesting effect. Very good at creating tension. Creates an effective vision.
10. Nice start. Middle seems too deliberate. A bit static in the middle. Climax too loud throughout, but a different impact than any other with the phrasing.

None of them was truly 'bad' as each one had something (if not several somethings) to add to the conversation. I really enjoyed #7 and #2. They are quite different.

Ordering: 2,7,9,10,8,6,4,5,3,1
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2017, 02:31:07 AM »
Thanks both, for those interesting responses.
ukrneal, your top choices show impeccable Sibelian taste - that is to say, one of them is a favourite of mine too  ;) and the other was first choice in Building a Library.
Mahlerian, your top choice is a conductor who gets plenty of mentions in GMG Sibelius threads, but when I was agonising over who to include and who to leave out, this one rightly or wrongly was my borderline in/out candidate.   :-[

All the 'must hear' conductors most closely associated with Sibelius are included here - all the modern ones that is, along with a couple of my personal favourites and one or two included mainly to provide contrast.  Not included are more historical figures such as Koussevitsky, Beecham, Gibson, though Beecham/RPO particularly is well worth hearing I think.  One version I very much wanted to include was outside my budget (!)   All bar two of these conductors have recorded this music more than once, but each is only represented once here, I've generally but not always chosen the newest version.  My choice of which recording to include may have done No.1 in particular, a disservice.

ukrneal I too went looking for some reading material - but got a bit more than I had bargained for, a lengthy dissertation on 'biosemiotics in music'.   ???  ???
« Last Edit: March 08, 2017, 02:44:12 AM by aukhawk »

Offline Mahlerian

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2017, 11:07:02 AM »
My choice of which recording to include may have done No.1 in particular, a disservice.

I think I can guess who that recording is.  If I'm right, I definitely would have ranked his other versions higher.

I'm wondering which one is Karajan, because I seem to have a love/hate relationship with his interpretations in general.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2017, 01:57:53 AM »
One question might be whether the Berlin PO is really a good fit for this music, and Karajan certainly produces a warm glow which doesn't sit well with the average Sibelius cover art of forests, mists and lakes.  ukrneal commented on a 'lighter leaner feel' and that one was a Finnish orchestra.  A recent version that got crowded out that I was really sorry not to include is by Paul Magi conducting the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra - like sample 4 it's on the fast side overall and certainly has that lean texture - a recommended listen.

Karajan/BPO have done some very good Sibelius though - his earlier stereo recording of the 4th Symphony (was on EMI, now available on Warner) startled the critics in its day, starting so slowly as to almost deconstruct the music, to spellbinding effect - a pace which has has since become the new normal for this music.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2017, 01:55:32 AM »
Any more takers - I shall close this next Monday, March 20th.

Offline Senta

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2017, 08:27:50 PM »
Ah, the good old blind comparison days! Glad to see this is still going on to some extent.

The fact that it's Sibelius 7 made me bite. I have several recordings but it's been a while since I did any focused listening to this so at the moment it's more of a clean slate.

I'm probably going to mention some conductor/orchestra combinations below that don't even exist for this work, oh well just stabs in the dark!  :P

Here are comments on each, I did end up listening to them in numbered order for convenience-sake, of course order always influences perspective I feel..

Top favs are 10, 4, 5..and 2 for variation.

1
Sluggish, then weirdly rushed in the middle, playing is not always totally together, textures are a bit muddy. Perhaps an older recording? Really no idea about the orchestra or conductor…this one doesn’t do it for me.


Innnnnnteresting….VERY deliberate but with a purpose. I think this is a European orchestra, maybe Vienna or Berlin? Everything makes a lot more sense in this recording than #1. LOVE the tempo contrasts, the drama in the sustained brass section, blazing, almost overbearing! Really wondering if this is a Bernstein recording.

3
Restrained…very light balletic touch, tempo a little ploddy perhaps. This one is just missing immediacy and drama though to me, it’s very safe. No idea about the provenance (but feel like this might be an American orchestra)

4
This certainly has more to say about the music …love the characterful winds! Elegant, and phrasing/accents just all make sense. Love the quick scherzo tempi. Great balance when the brass come in. Pretty sure this is a northern European (or Finnish) orchestra, might have an idea which recording this is.

5
Beautiful, extremely musical playing! Very sweet and flirtatious, round fruity winds, this makes a lot of very specific musical statements that are quite interesting. For some reason I feel this might be the Berlin Philharmonic..no idea about conductor.

6
This one glosses over a bit too much for me, not enough to say. It is light to the extreme, not weighty enough somehow, feels rushed. Gets a little better when the brass enters. Nicely played, but not a favorite. Feel like this might be a British orchestra.

7
Well, this is quite drawn out.. Very musical, extremely restrained and sooo tightly controlled. Almost sounds chamber orchestra-like. Interesting how darkly colored the brass sound. Awesome playing though as a whole it doesn’t speak to me as much as some others. Wondering if this might be Vienna though.

8
Okay, so this is an extreme, like each phrase has been taken out and spit polished and put back on display with a spotlight over it. It’s too much really for me, almost over dramatic. Spells out too much, I want longer thoughts. I’m wondering if this is possibly a Finnish orchestra, possibly with Segerstam? Probably so wrong about that though..

9
A slow beginning…again very classical light delicate playing. Something about this one reminds me of #7 for some reason. Feels a bit rushed in the middle.  So this still has that same quality as the brass in #7 too, kind of a dark covered element in the sound. This one had a lot more to say (in a doom sort of way) when the brass came in. Interesting, for sure, though not sure if a fav.      

10
Love the sweep of the beginning right off, this one is also making more extreme and specific statements. Maybe a Finnish/northern European orchestra. Great contrasts in tempi! I actually hear the sentences in this one, and they are quite varied. Excellent phrasing! Love the brass tone…it’s like darkly blazing….how about the horn, very interesting interpretation! Man, really not sure about the provenance now. But absolutely a fav.


Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2017, 08:52:40 AM »
Thanks - really useful to have that new set of rankings - I just love the stabs in the dark, don't miss out of the reveal early nect week  ;D

Quote
Here are comments on each, I did end up listening to them in numbered order for convenience-sake, of course order always influences perspective I feel..

Indeed, of course the order of presentation was far from random.  To eliminate all bias perhaps every listening session should start with a roll of the dice.

So far we have 3 clear leaders - which happen to be the 3 recordings that have individually been picked in 1st place, that is versions 2, 10 and 4 - plus 2 honorable also-rans, versions 8 and 7, with the rest relatively unloved.  Of these 5 conductors, 2 are Finnish.  Of these 5 orchestras, 2 are English.  Of these 5 record labels, 2 are German.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2017, 09:19:48 AM by aukhawk »

Online TheGSMoeller

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2017, 09:20:55 AM »
Any more takers - I shall close this next Monday, March 20th.

I'll definitely participate. Hopefully by this Friday/Saturday I'll be able to post my thoughts and scores.
 

Offline Cato

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2017, 10:14:32 AM »
I'll definitely participate. Hopefully by this Friday/Saturday I'll be able to post my thoughts and scores.

Amen!  I need to use the headphones for a final decision!  0:)
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2017, 04:05:09 AM »
Good-oh.  I look forward to it!

Offline Cato

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2017, 05:55:37 AM »
Okay, all together now, with the headphones!

Version I:  Not bad, but clarity is lacking at various points.  A concert recording, since I heard some audience noise, or else someone in the orchestra coughed.  The microphones seem to be very close to the orchestra.

Version II: The crescendos are CRESCENDOS!!!  I had to turn the volume down to avoid permanent hearing loss!  0:)  Powerful interpretation as a result!

Version III: Some hissing noise when the woodwinds are exposed, which might simply be the online interference.  The antiphonal parts were nicely done, a little Celibidache toward the end, but there is a case to be made for it.

Version IV: Nicely done throughout: perhaps more subtle than II, but its crescendos are almost as powerful.  Again, the antiphony among the woodwinds is handled well.

Version V: The opening is not bad, but in general not as exciting or interesting as some of the others: a little too delicate at times.  Again, some hissing in the recording may be from the online process.  I listened to it twice to verify my impression.

Version VI: Strong opening, although not as powerful as II.  And again one hears excellent playing in the antiphonal section.  The following section delivers drama and mystery.

Version VII: The opening is rather subdued in comparison to most of the others.  Nice playing, the drama at the end, again, is more subdued than in other versions.

Version VIII: An ominous aspect in the music comes through quite clearly at the beginning.  Some very close miking picks up a few clicks and squeaks here and there.  However, things are very clear as a result.  The third section is slowed down and the ominous aspect is made very apparent!  Right at the height of the climax, however, either someone monkeys with the equalizer and causes a jarring effect by suddenly bringing out the trumpets and woodwinds, or they were told to play quadruple fortissimo, thereby spoiling the section.  Too bad, as I was thinking this might be near the top.

Version IX: The opening is very good, as is the middle part, and the dramatic build-up in the next part rivals that of II!  Excellent overall!

Version X: Another slam-dunk opening, rivaling II, VIII, and IX.  Again, hissing in the recording now and then, but the playing in the antiphonal section contains more drama and intensity than other versions: this is no tippy-toe ballet music.  The dramatic climax is just that!

VERY difficult to choose a top version!

10

9

2

6

3

8

7

4

1

5


"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #15 on: March 16, 2017, 09:45:49 AM »
Thanks, Cato.  Incidentally the 'hissy' No.3 is (I think) the most recently-recorded of all these versioins - so something a bit odd there.

VERY difficult to choose a top version!

Indeed - very difficult to select just 10 versions out of the 30 :o I now have (I did acquire 5 new-to-me recordings in the process of preparing this comparison, 2 of which are included in this 10).  I'll be mentioning some of the other notable recordings during the reveal next week.
There is a 20% variation in overall timings and in Sibelius as in most music I personally lean towards the slower tempi - although scoring-wise this is little more than a chamber symphony which suggests that a lighter touch is also entirely workable.

Offline Cato

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #16 on: March 16, 2017, 10:40:34 AM »
Thanks, Cato.  Incidentally the 'hissy' No.3 is (I think) the most recently-recorded of all these versioins - so something a bit odd there.

Senta mentioned that Recording #7 was "chamber orchestra-like" and McUkrneal mentioned its "lighter" and "leaner feel," which are interesting comments, because I know that Sibelius had noticed Schoenberg by the early 1900's, especially the  Opus 9 Kammersinfonie.  Given the single-movement nature of the Seventh, its "compression," its assorted uses of peripeteia  ??? so to speak, I have always wondered if the work was not somehow (unconsciously?) influenced by Schoenberg's Opus 9.

Regardless, certainly there is a case to be made for a "chamber orchestra" quality in the score, as seen in Recording #7.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2017, 10:42:26 AM by Cato »
"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #17 on: March 16, 2017, 11:00:44 AM »
Another week, another mini-blind comparison.
Here are 10 samples from recordings of Sibelius' 7th symphony, in C.

The samples are about 5:15 long on average, and start around 6-7 minutes in to the symphony.  Although the symphony is cast in a single movement about 22-23 minutes long, what we have here is essentially the 'scherzo' section. (A few recordings do in fact have a track-break at the point where this music starts.) 
So about an hour in total, or if you like, just pick 1-5 or 6-10, and report on those.  Or dip in halfway through, to just audition the big climax which is the main focus of this comparison.

These live links will be removed after 2 weeks.
1.              File 1
2.              File 2
3.              File 3
4.              File 4
5.              File 5
6.              File 6
7.              File 7
8.              File 8
9.              File 9
10              File10

Almost immediately after the music starts, we have a trademark Sibelian gear-shift, the first of several in this extract.  I think these should be sort-of imperceptible, like a chauffeur moving through the gears so smoothly you don't spill the champagne.
This is followed by a strangely stifled half-climax for the brass, then a long (by Sibelius' standards) woodwind-led section which sounds to me like birdsong calling back and forth across a broad valley.  About 3 minutes in, a huge swirling climax starts to take shape, this time driven by the lower strings and punctuated by tympani, this music is all about low-end grunt.  It's one of my favourite passages in all of orchestral music. 




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nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #18 on: March 16, 2017, 04:00:44 PM »
Please do!   

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Sibelius 7th Symphony
« Reply #19 on: March 20, 2017, 01:31:01 AM »
Last day - I'll do the reveal tomorrow (Tuesday).
At the moment things are nicely split between - two clear leaders, three who are decidedly unloved, and the rest quite clearly grouped together in between.

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