Sibelius: Symphony No. 4; Pohjola’s Daughter; Finlandia

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LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius Symphony No. 4 etc
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Pohjola’s Daughter; Finlandia
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
Segerstam recorded the Fourth Symphony for Chandos with the Danish Radio Orchestra in 1990. This new account, beautifully played though it is, is far too self-aware and inflated: he takes some five minutes longer than Beecham, Berglund and Sir Colin Davis, to go no further. True, he distils a potent atmosphere in the first movement but beautifies detail. In fact his priority throughout seems to be beauty rather than truth. This is particularly evident in the ethereal slow movement. But what rules the reading completely out of court is the Scherzo, which almost grinds to a halt after a few bars. Sibelius’s ‘poco ritard’ marking a little later is grossly exaggerated and there are too many fussy and disruptive tempo changes.


Even more unacceptable is the coda of the finale. The oboe cries at the very end, which allude to Peter’s three denials of Christ, are wilfully pulled out of shape. The very closing bars completely lose their character of resignation and indifference.


There is no want of imagination in Segerstam’s Pohjola’s Daughter and there is a stirring Finlandia. But if you want this for the Symphony, look elsewhere. Fortunately we are spoilt for choice in the Symphony: both Karajan Berlin accounts are fine (his 1953 Philharmonia recording enjoyed the composer’s own imprimatur), and Sir Colin Davis and the LSO (RCA), Osmo Vänska (BIS), Neeme Järvi (DG) and Petri Sakari (Naxos) are each full of insight. Robert Layton