WORKS: Sibelius: Symphony No. 3 in C; Symphony No. 6 in D minor; Stravinsky: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Northern Sinfonia/Thomas Zehetmai
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2150
There are fascinating points of contact between Sibelius and Stravinsky. Born and brought up quite close to each other, they
found atavistic inspiration in neighbouring (and in some cases virtually identical) musical cultures.
And the older Stravinsky praised Sibelius for his ‘northern Italianate melodism’ – a quality that stands out in the central movement of
the Third Symphony and, despite the quasi-ironic makeup, in the third movement of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto.
If Thomas Zehetmair set out to emphasise these connections, he has succeeded. But whether that’s always the best angle to take is debatable. The kind of carefully pointed phrasing with short final notes that often suits Stravinsky’s melodic style doesn’t work so well in Sibelius.
The phrase endings in the opening of the Third Symphony sound clipped to me, while the rhythms in the scherzo of No. 6 are surely too staccato. And while it can be good to have details picked out so clearly, one shouldn’t forget Sibelius’s injunction to let them ‘float like meat in a sauce’.
The clarity is very welcome in the Stravinsky, as is Zehetmair’s determination to get to the expressive heart of the middle two movements. But I can’t help feeling that there are times when he just protests too much. For the Sibelius, the insight, structural grasp and elemental power of Osmo Vänskä are hard to beat. Stephen Johnson
A recent swathe of deletions has decimated the best of the alternative recordings for the Stravinsky Concerto, but Itzhak Perlman with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim remains a good option