Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D; The Tempest Suite No. 1

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D; The Tempest Suite No. 1
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Petri Sakari
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554266
What I like about Petri Sakari’s Sibelius is its naturalness. His earlier accounts of Pelléas, Swanwhite and King Christian II (Chandos) and the First and Third symphonies (Naxos) were completely unaffected and selfless. So it is here in the Second and most recorded of the symphonies, and the First Tempest Suite. Of course, in the former he is up against formidable competition: there are currently well over 50 versions from the likes of Barbirolli, Beecham, Koussevitzky, Bernstein and Karajan. We know that Sibelius’s own performance of the Second Symphony was taut and concentrated. He was brisker even than the pioneering set by Kajanus who took a little over 39 minutes, six less than Sakari.

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Much though I admire Sakari’s refusal to play to the gallery and his fine musicianship, I felt the first movement really could have had a little more fire and sense of thrust. Think of the highly charged 1954 Beecham performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra or Barbirolli’s RPO account. Indeed there is throughout a certain want of the high voltage one needs in this most ‘public’ of Sibelius’s symphonies. The recording gives the Iceland Symphony Orchestra a more recessed balance than we find in The Tempest which is far more vivid and present. This visionary score is most imaginatively done, and Sakari’s is as good an account as any among recent recordings. Beecham distilled a particularly concentrated atmosphere in his two recordings and though Sakari is not in that class, the other-worldly qualities of such movements as ‘The Oak-Tree’ and the ‘Berceuse’ are beautifully realised. Robert Layton