For Simon Rattle, Jean Sibelius is “one of the most staggeringly original composers that there is”. And indeed, this music has a unique musical language whose many beauties are particularly succinctly conveyed in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. There is sonorous warmth as much as there is austere Nordic folklore. Moreover, there is a conceptual boldness that takes the listener on exciting musical journeys of discovery. In 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth, Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the cycle live, which was met with unanimous delight by audiences and critics alike. “The Philharmoniker show that with them and Simon Rattle, Sibelius is in excellent hands,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung, “because the orchestra has that astringency and sheer power which is so important for this kind of music.”
The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003 of the Minnesota Orchestra, long ago proved himself a formidable interpreter of Nordic music in general and Sibelius in particular. This symphonic cycle – two highly praised discs are already out – is now complete, with this album of the pliant, classical Symphony No 3, the little known and underrated No 6 and the mysterious, enthralling single-movement No 7. The playing is polished and detailed, now springy and buoyant, now occluded and chilling. Tempi are slightly broad but convincingly so. From the plunging energy of the opening of the Third Symphony to the bleak, raw ending of the Seventh, this is a gripping listen.
British orchestras and their audiences have long held a special affinity for the orchestral works of Jean Sibelius, and the Hallé's venerable tradition of playing his music continues in this superb recording of the Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, the Symphony No. 7 in C major, and the symphonic poem En Saga. Mark Elder's straightforward interpretations are clear-headed and meticulous yet intensely passionate, and the orchestra responds to his direction by digging deep and playing with a commitment that is nearly perceptible. These symphonies and En Saga are representative of Sibelius' mature style, so their deliberate pacing and steady unfolding of motives into organic developments over long time spans require attentive listening, but the clarity of Elder's readings makes the progress of the music easy to follow. Add to this the exceptional reproduction, which brings out every detail with crispness, and presents the Hallé's warm and rich sonorities with credible presence, and the end result is a nearly ideal presentation of Sibelius' music.
Sibelius's Symphony No.3 was composed in 1907. It is the link between the romantic intensity of his first two symphonies and the more cold complexity of his later symphonies. Symphony No.7 was completed in 1924 and is notable for having only one movement. The Swan of Tuonela is a tone poem based on the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology. The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Yevgeny Mravinsky pair these with Debussy's Nocturnes Nos.1 & 2.
Rarely performed but recognized as a hidden masterpiece, Sibelius's score for Jedermann is unusual in that the music closely follows the words and action of this morality play, intensifying Everyman's hubris, penance, escape from the Devil's clutches and ultimate salvation.The Two Serious Melodies reflect Sibelius' dark mood during the difficult years of World War I, while In memoriam resonates with his preoccupation with death in 1909 following a life-saving throat operation, and was performed at his own funeral in 1957. This is the fourth of a six volume set that explores Jean Sibelius's orchestral works beyond the higher profile symphonies, violin concerto and tone poems.Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam is an acclaimed Sibelius interpreter, having been awarded the annual Finnish State Prize for Music in 2004; and in 2005 the highly esteemed Sibelius Medal.
During this 150th anniversary year of Jean Sibelius, his music is being performed and discussed more widely than ever. As might be expected, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, noted for its numerous and often revelatory Sibelius recordings, is planning its own homage: all seven symphonies will be performed at the 2015 edition of the orchestra’s annual Sibelius Festival. With principal conductor Okko Kamu the Lahti SO has also prepared a special birthday present for their great compatriot. Recorded between 2012 and 2014 this new anniversary cycle is released as a boxed set of three SACDs with a surround sound option, and is accompanied by an ample booklet with informative notes by Andrew Barnett, author of a Sibelius biography.
This double CD from EMI features the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by their Finnish principal conductor at the time (1970s), Paavo Berglund. It doesn't have to be that a conductor originates from the same country as the composer whose works he or she is conducting, but it often happens that this combination seems to produce performances of greatest sensitivity. So it is here, as Berglund conducts 10 works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The discs include quite familiar works like En Saga, one of Sibelius' first compositions when he was in his late 20s. We also have Pohjola's Daughter, The Bard and two of the four Lemminkäinen Legends, and a beautiful version of Luonnotar sung by the Finnish soprano Taru Valjakka. The rest of the discs is made up of less frequently heard pieces. We have the five-movement suite from the incidental music Sibelius wrote for Adolf Paul's play King Christian II (1898); the Spring Song (Vårsång) of 1894; the suite of incidental music from Maeterlinck's Pelleas and Melisande.
…There is no doubt in my mind that this Kullervo from Segerstam and his team is exceptionally fine and in the first rank of the ever-growing list of recordings. Spano's deeply thought and excellently performed account would also merit a first ranking. But I find Segerstam to have produced the most psychologically realistic Kullervo performance, thanks to the depth of characterisation uncovered by Hakala and Isokoski in the seemingly unpromising and dificult texts of the Kalevala verses. Segerstam comes close to Berglund's powerful first recording from 1970, which allowed many of us to encounter this unforgettable work. The state-of-the art fidelity of Ondine's engineering is a great advantage in itself. While quintessentially Finnish, Ondine's production nevertheless fulfils Sibelius' intent to make this music universal in appeal. Warmly recommended.