Sibelius: Symphonies 5 & 6

COMPOSERS: Jean Sibelius
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: Symphonies 5 & 6
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in E flat; Symphony No. 6 in D minor; The Swan of Tuonela (from Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22)
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Berglund


The late Paavo Berglund knew Sibelius personally. This means that reservations regarding his way with these two Symphonies must be made with particular respect, especially considering how many dozens of times he must have conducted each of them. Both interpretations have impressive strengths, with Berglund’s familiar and admirable no-nonsense directness everywhere in evidence, and with much fine and vividly focused orchestral playing to match (although the out-of-tune horn in the Fifth Symphony’s opening bars should have been patched from a rehearsal recording).

Yet in each case, the finale of these two very different Symphonies leaves you puzzled at Berglund’s insistent underplaying of the musical riches they have to offer. After the gripping drama of the Fifth’s combined first movement and scherzo (whose relentlessly growing speed and momentum are brilliantly judged), the tame anticlimax of the finale’s closing peroration is striking and in no way convincing. Nor is the insistent lack of poetry in the Sixth’s closing pages, after the loveliness so often conveyed in its preceding three movements, where Berglund’s engagement with the music’s cool-climate beauty is always incisive and purposeful, never prettified. Once again, the sense of anticlimax that follows is bizarre.

The special experience here is Berglund’s unlingering, atmospheric way with The Swan of Tuonela, whose cor anglais solo – flowingly and beautifully phrased, and flawlessly in tune – is as spellbinding as you’ll ever hear. It’s a pity the artist who delivers this exceptional playing is not identified anywhere in the booklet notes.


Malcolm Hayes