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Sibelius: Symphony No. 2; King Christian II

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Santtu-Matias Rouvali (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43; King Christian II – Suite, Op. 27
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Alpha Classics ALPHA 574   70:43 mins

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Finland has produced a remarkable crop of talented conductors in recent decades, and Santtu-Matias Rouvali is one of the latest. True to contemporary form, the photoshoot-style hype complete with wildly flying hair is ridiculous – the more so since the evidence here is of a serious artist, with a strikingly individual, but in no way contentious view of Sibelius’s much-performed symphony.

The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra must have played this work so often (especially during their years under Neeme Järvi) that they almost know it by heart, so the freshness and quality of their response here says much about Rouvali’s approach. He has a seemingly unerring instinct for knowing when to let the music’s processes unfold as if of their own accord – as in the symphony’s first movement, tautly and beautifully paced – and when to be more hands-on: the transition from the scherzo third movement into the finale couldn’t be more surely judged. Rouvali doesn’t rush: the scherzo’s Vivacissimo main tempo, for instance, is just a notch slower than we often hear, allowing momentum real room to build. And he controls the symphony’s sometimes brass-heavy orchestration without undercutting the music’s power: the finale’s closing peroration is a thrilling display of exaltation without bombast.

The ‘other side’ of Sibelius – the master of smaller-scale touch and mood-painting – is presented in the King Christian II suite: while the big-scale delivery of this is some way distant from the music’s theatre-orchestra roots, Rouvali does likeable justice to its poetry and charm.

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Malcolm Hayes