Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 2 & 7

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Linn CKD
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 2 & 7
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thomas Søndergård
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 462

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The best recordings in the large Sibelius catalogue set a formidable standard, and there will no doubt be plenty more to come in the composer’s anniversary year. Thomas Søndergård has a deserved reputation as a fine conductor, so it’s disappointing that his way with these two masterworks gives too little idea of what a wonderful experience each can offer. The Second Symphony’s opening movement here promises much, with Søndergård setting a brisk-ish main tempo (more than fair enough: Sibelius himself, insisting on this music’s essential ‘joyfulness’, disliked the dirge-like pace at which it was often taken); there’s also much deft and accurate detail, while the risk of bombast behind the heavier brass scoring is kept well at arm’s length. But the second movement’s drama of darkness and light is undercut by a tendency to rush things, and the finale’s build-up towards its final peroration feels underpowered.

Mixed fortunes affect the Seventh Symphony also. While the shifts of pace within its single-movement design are perhaps not as tricky to manage as received opinion has it, they’re not so easy either, and Søndergård handles them very convincingly. But his loose-reined approach short-changes far too much of the music’s magnitude in, to take one example, the passage for divided strings leading out of the symphony’s introduction.

For all the consistently decent orchestral playing and recorded sound, there are finer versions around of both works: try Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (Ondine) in the Second Symphony, or Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO Live) in the Seventh Symphony.

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Malcolm Hayes