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LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Sibelius's praises are sung far more often than his pieces are played. To be sure, some of his stirring but lightweight tableaux--such as the patriotic Finlandia, the mordantly sentimental Valse triste, and two or three of the tone poems based on the Finnish national epic, Kalevala--do make the rounds, and his eccentrically rhapsodic, well-proportioned Violin Concerto is popular with soloists who want in their repertoire a 20th-century work with Romantic roots. But the glory of Sibelius's extensive oeuvre is his symphonies, and though most of them deserve a place alongside those of Brahms and Bruckner, with their battery of technical tricks and broad emotional palette, they certainly are not performed as often. Of the seven--each more coherent and innovative than any maundering Mahler counterpart--only the second crops up with any regularity. Though not a masterpiece of distillation like its younger siblings, Sibelius's adieu to Romanticism does spell out his architectural approach: the quickness with which he assembles seemingly unrelated pieces into a recognizable mosaic, the somber Nordic colors obtained by a reliance on the woodwinds sometimes interrupted by lone brass calls, the unrelenting rhythms. Unjustly neglected, partly because conductors and musicians alike are intimidated by their unrelenting sparseness, are the fourth and seventh, both of which take the form to an extreme. Neither the third nor the sixth is as strong or memorable--they've been compared to Beethoven's even-numbered entries--but the fifth is a melodious, extroverted work with a stupendous climax, an obvious crowd pleaser. All but the first and sixth are on the docket of the London Symphony Orchestra during this week's visit. Britain's leading orchestra is not quite in a league with Berlin and Chicago, but it does boast excellent string and wind sections--mandatory for the material. The baton wielder is Colin Davis, an inveterate Sibelius champion; on the first night Japanese whiz Kyoko Takezawa should elevate the Violin Concerto to a high point. Thursday, December 11, and next Friday and Saturday, December 12 and 13, 8 PM, and next Sunday, December 14, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Colin Davis photo uncredited/ Kyoko Takezawa photo by Michael O'Brien.

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