Sibelius’s Symphonies Nos 1 & 6 conducted by Thomas Søndergård

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Linn
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 6
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thomas Søndergård
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 502

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Thomas Søndergård’s first disc with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, featuring Sibelius’s Symphonies Nos 2 and 7, attracted some solid praise. This new release features some very clean-cut, finely detailed playing, reflected in a vividly immediate recording. With repeated listening, though, Søndergård’s reading of the First Symphony sounds less impressive. After a very slow opening it seems to display plenty of energy, yet his timings put this among the slowest – 11:40 for the first movement, a full two minutes slower than Osmo Vänskä (BIS) using Sibelius’s metronome marks. Søndergård sustains momentum well enough, but increasingly the sense of structure sags, especially in the second movement, overly languishing and Tchaikovskian, even alongside similarly paced versions such as Colin Davis’s. The Scherzo is suitably energetic, but the Finale seems over-extended.

The Sixth, with its unified texture, fares much better, still fairly slow-paced but maintaining its flow. Søndergård captures the airy, sunlit quality of this light-textured, string-centred score, with its unhurried modal style and polyphonic passages. The sleevenote, not uncommonly, ascribes these to the composer’s admiration for Palestrina and Lassus – though according to Walter Legge the mere suggestion infuriated Sibelius. The notes also call Sibelius’s friend Axel Carpelan his ‘wealthy patron’, a myth exploded by every biographer since the 1970s: he was an utterly penniless devotee with an acute artistic vision. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but neither version rivals Davis, Segerstam or other leaders in this well-recorded field.

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Michael Scott Rohan