Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius's Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7

Album title:
Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Catalogue Number:
BIS-2006 (hybrid CD/SACD)
BBC Music Magazine
Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius's Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7

Osmo Vänskä’s earlier set of Sibelius symphonies with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (included in BIS’s Sibelius Complete Edition), though of decent quality throughout, certainly wasn’t in the stellar league of these remarkable performances which now complete Vänskä’s new set with the Minnesota Orchestra. To some extent this relates to the standard of playing, here in a genuinely special class. But a deeper reason surely has to be a new depth in Vänskä’s contribution, and how this has interacted with the Minnesota Orchestra’s own qualities in what sounds like a truly special artistic relationship.

Beautifully clear recorded sound, in a warm but not over-sumptuous acoustic space, is matched by the orchestra’s sound under Vänskä – a kind of sharp-focus richness that’s never cloying, conjuring instead a sombre inner glow that wonderfully suits the music’s idiom. In the Third Symphony’s Andantino second movement, so elusive and tricky to bring off, Vänskä finds an ideal tempo that’s both hypnotic and haunting – the opening theme’s second statement, on low violins, is coloured with a particular kind of quick-vibrato sonority that marvellously catches the music’s whimsical vividness. Vänskä’s pacing of the outer movements is a masterclass in how to allow cumulative momentum to build while never rushing – as also in the Sixth Symphony’s finale, where the growing tension of the approach to its fortissimo climax is superbly judged. And the Seventh Symphony’s gradual tempo-shifts, again notoriously hard to manage, are handled with unerring sureness.

Malcolm Hayes

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