Sibelius Symphonies Nos 1-7
Orchestre de Paris/Paavo Järvi
RCA Red Seal 19075924512 231:06 mins (3 discs)
Paavo Järvi has made memorable recordings with so many of the orchestras around the world with whom he has a strong relationship – in Bremen, Cincinnati, Parnu and Tokyo – that it’s easy for those of us not living in Paris to have overlooked his work there. And he confounds expectations; we’re so used to the cliché of French orchestras as light and bright that the authentic Sibelius earthiness comes as a surprise. In all seven symphonies, recorded live over five years in both the Salle Pleyel and the new Philharmonie, there’s an assured excellence of articulation and shading, with stunning work especially from horns, first clarinet and timpanist.
Any sense of striving for effect is offset by the depth of expression and Järvi’s hallmark ease of movement. I still don’t think that you can go against the composer’s uniform tempo for the fervent hymn that suddenly appears to power the Third Symphony’s finale to its conclusion, or the implosion of the Fourth’s troubled last dance; Järvi’s slowing here seems wrong, even if he and the players believe in it. But the sense of perspectives and ambiguities which so enrich the Fifth, and Sixth – perhaps the most successful, oddly so since the conductor describes it as ‘transitional’ – holds focus, with handsome sound too. Not a first-choice Sibelius cycle then – my option would be Oramo in Birmingham – but a testament to some magnificent work with an orchestra Järvi has left in excellent shape.