Marist Jansons conducts Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, Finlandia and Karelia Suite

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BR Klassik
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Finlandia; Karelia Suite
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 900144

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Huge weight of tone, burnished splendour to match, a mighty technical standard – all the hallmarks of the German orchestral scene at its most powerful are on parade here. Perhaps surprisingly, this approach works best in the smaller Sibelius works. Finlandia’s reputation as a turgid patriotic potboiler is based largely on mediocre performances that don’t bother taking the work seriously; Mariss Jansons, on the contrary, gives the music’s darkly smouldering rhetoric full and sonorous value, and encourages its central tune to sing with much soul. And while the orchestral sound in the Karelia suite is surely too hefty for Sibelius in his appealing light-music style, the winsome mood of the two outer pieces is happily captured nonetheless.

The performance of the symphony (recorded live, like the other works) has fine qualities also. The way the very first chord is initiated – as if breathed, rather than merely played – conveys much about a superb string section. The opening Allegretto’s central climax is an authentically Sibelian, heart-stirring surge of sound; and Jansons’s choice of tempo for the Scherzo, much less frenetic than usually heard, allows a fine sense of momentum to build towards the Finale. The downside is the way that relentless Bavarian firepower, particularly from the brass, is allowed to inflate much of the Tempo Andante second movement into stop-start bombast. Drawing the music’s extremes of gesture and sonority into a coherent whole is notoriously problematic here; but from a conductor and orchestra in this stellar class, it’s reasonable to expect a more convincing solution.

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Malcolm Hayes