Despite recommendations that pop up occasionally for more obscure cycles of the Sibelius symphonies, I find this to be, as a whole, the most fulfilling set. Davis and the BSO play and are recorded beautifully. The early symphonies, though not my favorites, here fare better than they often do because Davis doesn't make them sound like chilly Tchaikovsky. The Fourth gets a terrific reading, both appropriately bleak and, in the slow movement, lyrical and beautiful. Throughout we're aware that Davis isn't *pushing* to make a point...he brings out the music's qualities effortlessly and organically, with a quiet and subtle logic from movement to movement. The Fifth really allows the Boston Symphony to show off its superb colors, and we realize, in the right hands, this is one of the most beautiful, if not *the* most beautiful, in the United States. Davis manages sounds that are thick and plummy where needed (the tympani, for example) but also lean and crystaline where needed (string and often woodwind groupings, for example). He has a sound conception that I feel is ideal for Sibelius.
At the price, this is a steal. Although Davis has remade these works recently with the LSO on RCA, this is the cycle to get. The later recordings are less shaped, less focused, and the Londoners don't play as beautifully, nor are they as well-recorded. And at less than half the price for the same amount of music, this set is the best for your wallet too. A desert-island compilation.
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