Paavo Berglund, the indefatigable advocate of the music of Jean Sibelius, recorded the Finnish master's early Kullervo Symphony twice for EMI, once in stereo 1970 and again in digital in 1985. The former, the work's recorded premiere, is the performance on the first disc of this two-disc set. In terms of timing, there are some striking differences and some even more striking similarities between the two. The opening movement is a minute slower in the earlier recording, the fourth movement is a minute faster in the earlier recording, and the second, third, and fifth movements are nearly the same length down to the second.In terms of performance, the differences are even more striking. This earlier recording with the Bournemouth Symphony, while much less polished than the later version with the Helsinki Philharmonic, is far more ferocious. Whether this makes it better or worse is up to the individual listener and his/her predisposition toward Sibelius. Those who prefer him rough-hewn and Romantic will probably go for the earlier recording, while those who prefer him refined and controlled will probably go for the later recording.The addition of a second disc of shorter orchestral works by the same composer may go some way to deciding the choice. Though Berglund and the Bournemouth do not turn in particularly persuasive performances of such well-known works as Finlandia or the Alla Marcia from the Karelia Suite, their readings of the two Serenades for violin and orchestra with violinist Ida Haendel and of the elusive tone poem The Oceanides are better than most. In sum, while this two-disc set may be mandatory for hardcore fans of Sibelius and Berglund, less dedicated listeners will probably pass. EMI's stereo sound is richly detailed and vividly present, but oddly two-dimensional. James Leonard, Rovi
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