Sibelius: Complete Symphonies

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: Complete Symphonies
WORKS: Complete Symphonies; Three Late Fragments
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10809

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It may sound like faint praise to describe these as ‘well-managed’ performances, but to shape and steer all seven Sibelius Symphonies convincingly is no mean feat. When it comes to overview and attention to detail John Storgårds is an exemplary Sibelius conductor. Occasionally his tempos err on the broad side (the ending of the First Symphony is more solidly final than cataclysmically tragic), but he engineers long fluid transitions very well, which pays special dividends in the seamlessly changeable Seventh Symphony. In the first movement of No. 5, however, there is a tiny holding back at the great transitional climax that slightly spoils the slow-motion breaking wave effect, and the accelerating scherzo that emerges from this never quite recovers the element momentum of the first part. But these are very minor quibbles.

Rather more importantly the results can be a little impersonal. There’s not much here of the young Sibelius who said of the hyper-emotional Tchaikovsky that ‘there is much in that man that I recognise in myself’, nor of the older composer who described his Symphonies as ‘confessions of faith from the different stages of my life’. If one could give performances separate stars for ‘head’ and ‘heart’ then it would be five for the former and three for the latter. Of special interest, though, are the three short fragments from (probably) the Eighth Symphony. They’re so poignant – especially the first, which shows Sibelius taking further the harmonic exploration of Tapiola. Oh, if only…

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Stephen Johnson