Sibelius Symphony No. 1; En Saga
Gothenburg Symphony/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Alpha ALPHA 440 58:44 mins
Born in 1985, Santtu-Matias Rouvali is among the youngest of a seemingly endless succession of gifted conductors to come out of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Here he steers the Gothenburg Symphony, of which he was appointed Chief Conductor in 2016, through vital and idiomatic live performances of Sibelius’s First Symphony and the revised version of his tone poem En Saga. And, familiar though both works may be, neither exactly plays itself. The Symphony, particularly its finale, is full of tempo changes and transitions that need to be subtly related and integrated, while the tone poem requires the sustaining of a mesmeric intensity across some 19 minutes of minimalistic variations upon a handful of exiguous melodic motifs.
Yet Rouvali’s pacing, for the most part, feels instinctively ‘right’ – his only questionable mannerism is a drastic slowing down of the pizzicato chords that end the first and last movements of the Symphony, where Sibelius’s score asks for no such thing. The recording in Gothenburg’s wood-lined Concert Hall offers sonorous, yet clear lower textures, and if the high strings and trumpets occasionally generate a slight ‘edge’ this is not inappropriate to the Symphony’s more Tchaikovskian moments of passion. In all, this is a genuinely competitive release.