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.”
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.
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.
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.
This sensational disc has served as a reference edition for both concertos since it was first issued back in the late 1980s. The Sibelius concerto is distinguished by the tension between Lin’s passionate and virtuosic account of the solo part and Salonen’s remarkable precision at the head of the orchestra. Listen, for example, to the remarkable rhythmic clarity at the opening of the finale, and to the way this serves to “float” Lin’s daredevil pyrotechnics up above. It’s just marvellous. The same holds true of the Nielsen–there is no finer account of this neglected concerto. It’s a rarity because in the finale Nielsen subordinates flash and dazzle to the work’s overall emotional arc, progressing from anger to contentment. That doesn’t mean the music isn’t excellent, or that Lin and Salonen’s performances aren’t gripping from first note to last. They tear into the opening movement with apt ferocity and find the necessary emotional resolution in the work’s amiable conclusion. The detailed, well-balanced sound ideally suits the interpretations. Essential.
The two Serenades ‘sung’ by the more rapturously Oistrakh-like Kang are sentimental and are recorded with rich immediacy. The Six Humoresques also arrive courtesy of Kang. These are magical bonbons - each weighted and balanced to perfection even though I favour the rawer vintage set glowingly recorded by Rosand and still available on Vox. True Sibelians must not miss these works and Kang and his orchestra do catch these silvery spells and confident little drinking songs - pride and eloquence, seduction and midnight poetry haunt these pages and it's all one especially well.
Thomas Søndergård's hybrid SACD of Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major and his Symphony No. 7 in C major is an audiophile showcase that presents two contrasting sides of the composer with optimal clarity. The comparatively lush orchestration of the Symphony No. 2 probably has never sounded better in any recorded format, and the multichannel reproduction of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales brings out its vibrant bass, velvety strings, and sumptuous winds in a resonant acoustic, all of which are essential ingredients in the young Sibelius' post-Romantic sound. Yet the Symphony No. 7 presents the sparer counterpoint and leaner textures of Sibelius' mature phase, so the recording brings out the transparency of the timbres, and the clean separation of parts gives an added spatial dimension. Søndergård's interpretations of both works are wholly sympathetic and masterful, and the orchestra plays with the commitment and vitality that make these symphonies compelling. One hopes this is the first installment of a Sibelius cycle, which would be a great addition to Linn's catalog. Highly recommended.
The beautifully played Sibelius recordings by conductor Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra have often been revelatory, not least in the much-neglected area of the composer's theater music. Segerstam found much of interest in the composer's incidental music, the forerunner of the soundtracks Sibelius might well have written if he had lived in our time. But Scaramouche, Op. 71, composed in 1913, is something else again: it is music for a pantomime, a genre not much in evidence for today (although it certainly has affinities with the music video). The action of the mostly wordless play (there were a few spoken passages, excised in this performance) was continuous, and so, thus, was Sibelius' music. It is thus a genuine piece of dramatic music, of which there is very little in the Sibelius catalog, and for the most part it has more to do with the developmental thinking of the symphonies than it does with the incidental music scores.
Born into a musical Latvian family violinist Baiba Skride won First Prize at the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Competition, held annually in Belgium. Ms. Skride’s natural approach to her music making has endeared her to some of today’s most important conductors and orchestras. Following her debut at the BBC Proms with the Oslo Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko playing the Szymanowski Concerto No. 1, The Times noted, ‘Latvian violinist Baiba Skride sailed over the orchestra with long lines of melody, silver and sweet.’ She was immediately re-invited, and at the 2014 Proms played the Stravinsky Concerto with the BBC Symphony and Ed Gardner. Baiba Skride debut recording with Orfeo of the Szymanowski Concertos and Myths was nominated for the 2015 BBC Music Magazine Awards in the Concerto section. For her Orfeo CD follow up she has recorded two Scandinavian violin concertos truly exciting, fresh and innovative – Jean Sibelius’s well-loved concerto and Carl Nielsen’s unjustly neglected companion work – with the Tampere Philharmonic and conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali.
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.