WORKS: Pohjola’s Daughter; The Oceanides; Tapiola; En saga; The Bard
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Petri Sakari
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555299
This issue duplicates four of the tone poems included on Osmo Vänskä’s Lahti SO disc, reviewed last September (BIS). My admiration for the fine phrasing and musical shaping of those performances was tempered by some excessive and affected soft dynamics. (When Sibelius writes pp, he still means the notes to speak rather than be scarcely whispered.) And I have found that shortcoming more intrusive on repeated hearing. There are no such problems in Petri Sakari’s new disc and though his insights may not always be as deep as Vänskä’s he is a natural Sibelian and his readings are agreeably straightforward. He gets a good response from his Icelandic players, though the strings are wanting in opulence.
All five accounts have a great deal going for them even if Sakari never quite achieves the distinction of his finest rivals. His Pohjola’s Daughter is sensitively shaped, though lacking, perhaps, the last ounce of intensity; and much the same holds true of Tapiola. Good though this is, memories of Beecham and Koussevitzky onwards through to Rosbaud, Karajan and Colin Davis are not banished. There is no lack of atmosphere in En saga and The Oceanides, though I found The Bard a little lacking in concentration. But no one looking for an inexpensive set of Sibelius tone poems is likely to feel short-changed: these are very musicianly and unaffected readings, decently played and with a recording that has a lifelike, well-judged perspective, range and body. Robert Layton