Sound of Sibelius

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Karelia Suite, Op. 11; Finlandia, Op. 26; The Wood-Nymph, Op. 15; The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22 No. 2; Lemminkäinen’s Return, Op. 22 No. 4; Spring Song, Op. 16; Valse triste, Op. 44 No. 1; Scene with Cranes, Op. 44 No. 2
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1645 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Osmo Vänskä’s Sibelius has always been intensely poetic, and that’s the predominant feeling in this excellent selection, mostly remixed from BIS’s original 2006 and 2007 surround sound recordings for SACD. Not a predictable choice, though; the only one of the major tone poems is the long-neglected Wood Nymph of 1895, but though a touch long-winded, this is every bit as haunting as its successors.
 
Vänskä’s 1996 premiere recording was originally released with less popular couplings; this new programme which includes his 2006 recording of the Wood Nymph will suit newcomers better. But it will also please the more experienced; the Karelia Suite and Finlandia take on an unexpectedly fresh, immediate energy, with lively but unforced tempos, and even 
Valse Triste doesn’t sound banal.
 
Indeed, freshness is Vänskä’s keynote here, assisted by the airy SACD acoustic, less startling than some recordings but also less hard. Its translucency brings out Vänskä’s talent for telling detail – in Lemminkäinen’s Return, for example, sinuous woodwind nuances lost in Beecham’s more rumbustious version.
 
The Lahti brass sounds distinctly restrained, the horns even slightly muffled, but that seems to be Vänskä’s intention; he makes it work well. The Swan of Tuonela is much less black and doomladen than, for example, in its renditions under Karajan or Gibson, but has a slow-paced, softer melancholy. The lighter textures of Spring Song and Scene with Cranes are just as effective. Michael Scott Rohan