Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: RCO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw O/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 5005
So many things about this performance are outstanding that it feels churlish to weigh in with complaints. The playing is beautiful, especially some of the woodwind solos; the string tone is rich and varied, and never blandly homogenised; and, as so often with Jansons, formal logic and emotional development are made to seem simply two sides of the same living process. It is also good to hear an interpretation that reminds one how much the younger Sibelius owed to Tchaikovsky – a composer Jansons understands as well as any living conductor.

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And yet just as often he seems to miss the mark in some important way. The timpani’s loud initial attack at the beginning of the slow movement is surely too theatrical (Sibelius only asks for mezzo forte). The first movement’s gradual growth from halting, fragmentary beginnings is smoothed over – not so much in the phrasing, more in the way Sibelius’s pregnant pauses are handled. And there are times when the sinuous elegance of that phrasing actually seems to work against the music rather than draw out its expressive substance. Jansons strives hard to make the magnificent transition from scherzo to finale work, but it isn’t anything like as thrillingly inevitable as in any of Colin Davis’s versions – especially not the old Philips version with the Boston Symphony. The latter remains just about ideal as an interpretation, and the recording too has a rounded immediacy the RCO Live sound lacks, fresh and reasonably balanced though it is. Stephen Johnson