Sibelius: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
Leif Segerstam’s new account of the Third Symphony is a great improvement on his earlier recording with the Danish National Radio Orchestra in the early 1990s (Chandos) which suffered from a disruptive gear change at the second theme of the first movement among other idiosyncratic touches. This is much more straightforward and does greater justice to this lean, muscular and extraordinarily original score. No one listening to Symphony No. 2 could have possibly imagined the totally different sound-world and Classical economy of utterance of its successor. The finale is the most ingenious movement formally as, for that matter, is the first movement of the glorious Fifth. Here, too, Segerstam is relatively free from expressive exaggeration and handles the transition between the main section and the scherzo-like second half with mastery. His slow movement does not unfold as effortlessly as, say, Colin Davis or Karajan, though it has a strong sense of atmosphere. The finale sets out well, but he does swoon over the return of the big tune towards the end of the movement, which sounds inflated. The orchestra responds well for him and the recording, made in Finlandia Hall, is finely detailed and decently balanced. We are really spoilt for choice in this repertoire these days from Ashkenazy through to Vänskä and, without any disrespect to this newcomer, existing recommendations are really unaffected. Davis and the LSO on RCA have naturalness and authority and in the Fifth the first Berlin Philharmonic account with Karajan remains quite special. Robert Layton