Symphony No. 7; Pelléas et Mélisande – Suite; King Christian II – Suite
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
Ondine ODE 1404-2 72:01 mins
With so many brilliant young conductors coming out of Finland in recent decades, it was nice to have a quid pro quo with the appointment last year of the 38-year-old Englishman Nicholas Collon as chief conductor of the Finnish Radio Orchestra – and doubtless inevitable that their first recording together would be of Sibelius. His approach to the arch-like span of the Seventh Symphony may seem at first a little smooth and understated, as if to avoid any hint of portentous rhetoric, yet it soon evolves into a widely-ranging yet tightly controlled account – at 21 minutes, among the livelier versions on disc, where Karajan, Bernstein and others, making a meal of every expressive gesture, could take 24 or 25.
In picking two of the composer’s finest suites of incidental music, Collon reminds us that Sibelius’s extensive contribution to theatre music is quite as significant in its way as his symphonies and tone poems. Certainly, the long Sibelian build up of the opening Nocturne movement of the lavish King Christian II Suite has an almost symphonic sweep; whereas the smaller-scale vignettes for Pelléas et Mélisande – so different from the responses of Fauré, Debussy and Schoenberg to the same play – exemplify Sibelius’s genius for evoking intense atmosphere with a few exiguous gestures and textures. Collon and his players are especially responsive to Sibelius’s detailed dynamic markings in the latter suite.
Ondine’s recording is warm and detailed if not especially spacious in ambience and alloyed from time to time by what sounds like a slightly artificial boosting of woodwind detail.