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ClassicsOnline Home » SIBELIUS, J.: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5 / Jager March (Kajanus Conducts Sibelius, Vol. 3) (1928, 1932)
This is the last of three volumes containing the complete Sibelius recordings conducted by Robert Kajanus in performances which carry the composer’s imprimatur. Sibelius said of Kajanus that “there are none who have gone deeper and given [my symphonies] more feeling and beauty”. The volatility and extended climaxes of Symphony No 3 are perfectly shaped. Symphony No 5 also takes flight majestically, not least in the ‘swan theme’ of the finale.
By Gary Lemco
Kajanus conducts Sibelius • Volume 3
Symphonies Nos 3 and 5 • Finnish Jäger March, Op 91, No 1
Robert Kajanus, the Finnish conductor and composer of Swedish descent, was born in Helsinki on 2nd December 1856 and died there on 6th July 1933. Although posterity recalls him first and foremost as a conductor, he was also a prolific composer. His catalogue embraces over two hundred works often inspired by the folklore and traditional melodies of his homeland. Kajanus was well-travelled in his student days, not least to Paris and Leipzig, his mentors including the conductor Hans Richter (who gave the premières of major works by Brahms, Bruckner, Elgar and Wagner) and the composer Johan Svendsen. Kajanus’s postgraduate work was undertaken in Dresden before he returned to Helsinki to form the Philharmonic Society (today the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra). Kajanus’s fifty-year tenure created an ensemble of a very high standard. In 1888 Kajanus conducted the Finnish première of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. Kajanus also played an important part in his country’s music education. For nearly thirty years he was Director of Music at the University of Helsinki. His children, all carrying the family name, include two harpists and a violinist, all now deceased.
Robert Kajanus and Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) were close friends. Although Kajanus was an established composer before his younger compatriot started to climb this particular ladder of creativity, it is Sibelius who is now recognised as one of the supreme compositional creators. Nevertheless Kajanus was an exemplar as part of Sibelius’s development: Kajanus wrote a symphonic poem called Aino and Sibelius responded with one of his own, the ambitious Kullervo. Kajanus commissioned Sibelius to compose what would turn out to be the orchestral En Saga, and so Sibelius reciprocated with a dedication to his benefactor. Kajanus’s reputation as a conductor endures given his association as a trusted interpreter of Sibelius’s music and through the recordings he made of it. Although they are now eighty years old they remain essential listening for aficionados of the composer owing to the fact that these versions carry Sibelius’s imprimatur.
Kajanus made the first recordings of Sibelius’s First, Second, Third and Fifth Symphonies, all set down in London in the early 1930s. The plan was that Kajanus would document all seven symphonies as well as numerous Sibelius orchestral pieces, but his death in 1933 prevented this. In 1930 the Finnish government and the Columbia record label joined in partnership in a wish to record Sibelius’s first two symphonies, the works of a then-living and highly admired composer. (Sibelius’s reputation somewhat diminished in the years following his death.) Kajanus was the conductor of choice, not least by the composer himself.
Sibelius completed his Symphony No 3 in 1907 and dedicated it to the English composer Granville Bantock who had helped Sibelius’s music to be established in Britain. Sibelius himself conducted the first performance that year, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a compact work, a classical stepping-stone between the romantic triumphalism of the Second Symphony and the austere if personal darkness of the Fourth. In three movements, the First’s rhythmic profile is stated at the very outset. It is a lean, muscular work not without moments of quietude. Kajanus gives some of the faster music of the first movement with elemental energy, creating a more volatile composition than is often the case.
The middle movement is particularly interesting. The marking is Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto. This would suggest a relatively quick pulse for the music, which is how most conductors take it. However, in view of Kajanus’s closeness to Sibelius and that these recordings carry the composer’s approval, it is not surprising that the conductor should take a more measured way with the music.
Of course, it is for musicians to find their own way into the music they are interpreting. Kajanus’s pacing, however, is very convincing. Of later interpreters, Sir Colin Davis has also offered a similar deliberation.
This economic work concludes with a movement that combines scherzo elements with an emerging chorale theme that will eventually crown the symphony in resolute terms and with some thrilling horn trills. Kajanus is particularly successful in delineating the various ingredients of this movement and yet moving towards the coda with seamless inevitability.
Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony began as a commission from the Finnish government to mark the composer’s fiftieth birthday. Sibelius’s original concept, of 1915, was in four movements. (It is sometimes still played, and has been recorded.) Through a revision the following year, Sibelius found the definitive shape of the piece in 1919, which he first conducted that year, now in a three-movement format that joined the first two together, an ineluctable fusion, with the second section, a scherzo, now reached through a tumultuous climax. It is of course this version that Kajanus recorded in London in 1932.
This work, begun during the time of World War I and revised in its aftermath, shows no signs of the musical upheavals that had taken place in the musical world in the previous decade and since the time of Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony. Such works, assuming he knew of them, such as Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces (first heard in 1912 at the Henry Wood Proms) and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Paris, 1913) seemed to have little effect on Sibelius. He was his own man, his music remaining linear and richly polyphonic. Although the first version of the Fifth Symphony shows signs of ‘modernism’, Sibelius commented regarding his revision that “I wish to give my symphony another—more human—form. More down-to-earth, more vivid”. It is certainly earthy, from deep underground, and vivid; and also looks to the skies, not least in the majestic ‘Swan Theme’ of the finale and the work’s ‘climb’ at the very close, an ascent to a wonderful mountain-top vista.
Kajanus’s conducting of this mighty work is fluid and determined, taking account of the numerous marked changes of tempo and building unflinchingly to the conclusion. The Finnish Jäger March (Jääkärimarssi) was composed by Sibelius in 1917 at a time when the Jäger Battalion of the Imperial German Army was fighting against Russia, of which Finland was then a part. Sibelius’s military march is no more than a curiosity, but a fascinating one given the author and with occasional harmonies that suggest who the composer is.
In 1930 the Finnish government arranged for the English Columbia label to make recordings of the first two symphonies of Jean Sibelius, contributing fifty thousand marks toward the project. The goal was to broaden interest in Finnish music throughout the world; and while Sibelius was already well-known through shorter works such as Finlandia, The Swan of Tuonela and Valse Triste, his symphonies had never previously been recorded. Sibelius was invited to select a native-born interpreter to conduct the works, and had no hesitation in recommending composer/conductor Robert Kajanus (1856–1933). “Very many are the men who have conducted these symphonies during the last thirty years”, Sibelius wrote, “but there are none who have gone deeper and given them more feeling and beauty than Robert Kajanus”. London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was engaged to record the first two symphonies and two movements from the Karelia Suite as fillers.
Two years later, after the merger of Columbia and HMV into EMI, the latter label took up the cause with a series of “Sibelius Society” albums, the first of which featured Kajanus conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony and two tone poems, Pohjola’s Daughter and Tapiola. The Third Symphony and Incidental music for Belshazzar’s Feast were also recorded during those sessions; but Kajanus’s death the following year put an end to his participation in the series.
The present release is the last in a series of three volumes containing the complete Sibelius recordings of Robert Kajanus. The Third Symphony was taken from a pre-war American Victor “Gold” label pressing, while the Fifth came from a Victor “Z” shellac album. The Finnish Jäger March was transferred from a British HMV edition. Recorded while the Helsinki Philharmonic was on tour in Berlin, it allows us to hear Kajanus conducting the ensemble he founded and led for over half a century, during which time it presented the premières of many of Sibelius’s most important works.
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