Sibelius: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 7

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LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
It is ten years since Leif Segerstam last recorded these symphonies, with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra for Chandos, when neither work was really allowed to speak for itself. Although these readings are not quite as mannered, they still remain too self-aware. In the second theme of the finale of No. 1 Segerstam emotes heavily, robbing the music of its line and forward movement. And the rhetorical posturing and bombast of the closing paragraphs are hard to take. By the side of Colin Davis (RCA), Karajan (EMI) or Ashkenazy and Blomstedt (Decca), to go no further, this is pretty crude.


Again the Seventh Symphony is generally more successful than the earlier Chandos recording: the opening has an imposing breadth and majesty though again some ideas are gently cossetted or pulled out of shape. But this is nowhere near as intrusive as before. The Seventh is the stronger of the two and there are, as often with this conductor, some thoughtful touches. However, when there are so many selfless and commanding accounts of both works, this is not a real contender in spite of good orchestral playing. The recording is decently balanced even if the timpani are a bit too prominent and the brass a bit close. The catalogue is generously stocked with more powerful and unaffected readings: in the First Karajan or Colin Davis are to be preferred and in the Seventh Vänskä or Davis. Robert Layton