Sibelius: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: CO of Europe/Paavo Berglund
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14951-2
‘The music of Sibelius must above all be interpreted,’ declares Paavo Berglund in the notes accompanying his recording of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. The printed score needs careful editing: for the sake of clarity Berglund is prepared to switch instrumentation or double parts here and there. His new practical edition of the Seventh Symphony, for instance, has so many annotations that he doubts they can all be printed.

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This disc is representative of Berglund’s fresh approach to Sibelius, although he does not seem to think that a chamber orchestra is necessarily ideal. Chamber proportions improve the audibility of the woodwind, but he misses the sound of a large string section in a ‘really good orchestra’.

How well does it work compared to the big orchestras fielded by Davis and Blomstedt? The San Franciscans, certainly, are the sort of ‘really good orchestra’ that Berglund craves. The opening of the Sixth Symphony has an impressive sweep and immediate emotional appeal. Heavy vibrato cloaks the music in mystery. Berglund is more direct and detailed, but ultimately less compelling. His cleaner textures, however, bring a sense of living wonder to the peregrinations of the Fourth Symphony, while Davis and the LSO seem plodding and unfocused by comparison.

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Blomstedt’s performance of the Third Symphony is crisp and buoyant, but the First under Davis is too hard-driven to allow any sense of space and calm to emerge. Christopher Lambton