En Saga; Finlandia; The Swan of Tuonela; The Oceanides; Valse triste; King Christian II Suite
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thomas Søndergård
Linn CKD566 75.06 mins
Sibelius’s symphonic poems and theatre music suites, popular in their day, now feature far too rarely in orchestral concert programmes. Fortunately the situation is balanced up by a large recorded legacy of these masterworks of musical poetry – and this release can hold its own with the best around. Thomas Søndergård’s approach conjures a pulsing energy of the kind which seems to well up from within the music itself, rather than being driven from without; he also has a canny awareness of how a tiny, unobtrusive shift of pace now and again can make a whole Sibelian musical structure seem to come alive. The orchestral response has an expressive vividness and focus that is exceptional: En Saga’s sense of narrative momentum, the dark culminating surge of The Oceanides, and Finlandia’s stirring rhetoric all come across memorably.
The only aberration here relates to otherwise excellent recorded sound. In The Swan of Tuonela, Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer’s beautiful, mellow-toned cor anglais solo has been forward-projected to an extent that skews the music’s internal balance; Porsmoguer never plays too loudly but even so, there are times when parts of the orchestra’s ultra-quiet accompaniment can barely be heard at all. How was this situation not troubleshot at the time?