Many listeners have acknowledged the more “Slavic”, warmer tone of Ashkenazy’s Decca cycle – no problem for the First Symphony! The opening clarinet solo is already molded with personality, and indeed this reading of the Symphony bursts forth with brilliance and purpose – life. The musical lines are drawn with great beauty and splendour, and the layered music, eg. of the Andante is woven with sumptious tone-body and much atmosphere – speaking of which, Decca’s 1980s sound is one of the best balanced.
Everything is nicely in place – listen for the quiet pedals of winds and softly rolling timpani, crucial components in the transitions between fast and slow sections, which Ashkenazy handles much more convincingly than Colin Davis’ 1994 RCA reading. Indeed, the Philharmonia Orchestra inject life and push into the music; individual phrases connect the entire Symphony with a coherence not often heard.
Symphonies Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 7 with Tapiola and En Saga are on Double Decca 455 405-2.
Symphony Nos.1, 2 & 4. Finlandia. Karelia Suite.
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy
DECCA Double 455 402-2 (Complete Symphonies Vol.1)
2 discs [143:38] budget-price. Symphony No.1 (39’06”) recorded 1981 (reissued 1998).
These were all reissued again in 2003 in a Decca box set “collector’s edition”:
The 7 Symphonies. Finlandia, Karelia Suite, En Saga, Luonnotar, Tapiola, Romance for String Orchestra, Valse Triste, Violin Concerto, Serenades and Pieces for Violin and Orchestra.
DECCA 473590-2 (5 discs)