...is this one for the Alexander Gibson Sibelius 2nd on Classics for Pleasure from 1973. It uses a wonderful photograph and has a lovely typeface. The cover, which incorporates a sketch of the composer taken from a 1913 photograph (actually ten years after the symphony was first performed), was designed by Clare Osborne and is an elegant seventies classic.
Sibelius is, of course, Agent Triple P's favourite composer and we own pretty much all of his recorded music. This particular disc was the first Sibelius piece we owned and we must have bought it pretty much as soon as it came out in 1973. We can't now remember exactly why we decided to buy a piece of Sibelius; most of our classical collection at that time consisting of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Wagner. We suspect that the cover of this album had a lot to do with it. Young people who only know CDs (and really young people think even they are old fashioned!) don't appreciate the visual effect in a shop of a good 12"x12" record cover.
The photograph on the front is well chosen to evoke the sunny and relaxed opening of the piece and the conifers, lake and mountains evoke a suitably Scandinavian feel. Of course the question of whether Finland is a Scandinavian country is moot. Whilst having been part of Sweden until 1809, when the second symphony was written Finland was a grand Duchy within Russia. Indeed there have been arguments that the second symphony itself was making a nationalistic statement, as the Russians sought to suppress Finnish language and culture. Sibelius never confirmed this but his close friend, the Finnish conductor, Georg Schneevoigt wrote of it: "The first movement depicts the quiet, pastoral life of the Finns undisturbed by the thoughts of oppression. The second movement is charged with patriotic feeling, but the thought of brutal strife brings with it the timidity of the soul. The third, in the nature of a scherzo, portrays the awakening of national feeling, the desire to organise defence of their rights, while in the finale hope enters their breasts and there is comfort in the anticipated coming of a deliverer."
However, evocative though the front cover photograph is, it doesn't, of course, look anything like Finland; which has nothing approaching the towering mountains depicted. It could be a Norwegian fjord but it should be remembered that whenever advertisers want to depict a Scandinavian landscape with fjords they tend to fly straight to New Zealand where they film in fiordland in the south west corner of South Island. It could even be a lake in the Rockies; who knows? The cover for CFP's matching recording of Sibelius 1st symphony featured a cold frozen lake which, again, went well with the E minor key of that piece.
In reality, somewhat surprisingly, the 2nd symphony was conceived, and partly written (part of the slow movement), in the Mediterranean resort of Rapallo in Italy (rather akin to the fact that La Mer was written in Eastbourne!) during a holiday Sibelius and his family took in 1901. The first performance of the piece took place on March 8th 1902 in Helsinki to a rapturous reception.
We can't say that it is our favourite Sibelius symphony (that is probably the 3rd) but it is one of our top three (with the 5th). Triple P's original LP was stolen and when we replaced the piece we did so with Gibson's later digital recording, also recorded by the SNO but ten years after this 1972 CFP version. Gibson, of course, was one of the great conductors of Sibelius and, indeed was awarded the Sibelius medal in 1978. Gibson's great ability as a Sibelian was to be able to effortlessly ride the flow and evolution of the composer's music without bringing too much staccato choppiness to it.
Oddly, our acquisition of this record coincided with Triple P's first attempt to read The Hobbit and so, in our mind the music conjures up images of The Shire. We have to say that Peter Jackson's visual rendition of The Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring was, to Triple P, the least successful part of the film. We had imagined a more heavily wooded, less open, landscape and feel that the New Zealand location contained fields that were too large with not enough hedgerows.
Anyway, when we saw this record on the internet we had to buy it just for the cover!