Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D; Tapiola; Valse triste

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D; Tapiola; Valse triste
PERFORMER: San Francisco SO/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 433 810-2 DDD
The term ‘Sibelian’ as a description of a style of music is nowhere better exemplified than in the opening bars of this symphony. The dark green magnitude of the Finnish forest is hauntingly painted by an expansive string motif and the woodwind melody that answers it. But Blomstedt’s approach to this most popular of Sibelius’s symphonies is unremarkable. Describing the compositional process, Sibelius suggested that it was ‘as though the Almighty had thrown the pieces of a mosaic down from the floor of heaven and told me to put them together’. The diverse elements of this mosaic are efficiently represented in this recording but do not cohere in a unified symphonic vision. The latter movements fare better: the rising three-note theme of the finale is deservedly famous, and Blomstedt manages to treat it with a lightness of touch that belies its fundamental rigidity.

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The two fillers on this disc are rather more satisfying. Valse triste would have made the composer a rich man had he not sold the copyright when he was hard up, and it receives here a delicate and crystalline performance that is beautifully judged. Tapiola carries with it a sense of mystery, conveyed here with a subtlety and persuasiveness that would have been welcome in the symphony.

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The recording is a little dry. Although the orchestral balance is pleasantly realistic, the acoustic of the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is unforgiving and lacks the expansiveness that this music desperately needs. Christopher Lambton