Sibelius: The Symphonies

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: Symphonies
WORKS: The Symphonies
PERFORMER: Gothenberg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5688
It is now two decades since Neeme Järvi recorded his previous Sibelius cycle with the Gothenberg. There is no want of intensity and fire in any of these new accounts (symphonies Nos 1 and 2 were recorded at concerts in 2001-02 and the remainder under studio conditions).

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Generally Järvi is much more expansive than in his previous cycle. The 1983 version of the Second, for instance, was distinguished by a very brisk first movement (almost as fast as the famous old Kajanus set, though Sibelius himself is said to have taken it even faster in a 1916 performance!). Here he is much more measured. And in the Seventh Symphony, Järvi conveys that work’s sense of awe and sense of vision, and shows his usual feeling for the Sibelian sound world, though I did feel that it could do with a little more forward movement. The Sixth is both thoughtful and powerful, dark in feeling – albeit less subtle in colouring and atmosphere than Karajan or Colin Davis.

What I like about this partnership is the blend of freshness and enthusiasm with a complete lack of self-regard. Only in the Fourth’s Scherzo are there some moments of expressive or agogic exaggeration, though the performance as a whole is very powerful in conception and has a marvellous slow movement. The wonderful acoustic of the Gothenburg Concert Hall presents orchestral detail with great vividness and presence, captured by the new recording (made, as in the 1980s cycle, by the Lennart Dehn-Michael Bergek team) with great realism. Surround sound enhances its impact.

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Altogether, this is a useful complement to the splendid RCA Sibelius box, of the LSO conducted by Colin Davis in the 1990s, which remains a first recommendation not only for the seven symphonies, but also Tapiola, Kullervo and all the tone poems and orchestral pieces. Yet Järvi is a dedicated guide in the Sibelian terrain and his is a rewarding, satisfying cycle. I hope DG will encourage him to revisit some of the Tubin symphonies given this magnificent sound. Robert Layton