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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5

Album Summary

>Sibelius, Jean : Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63
>Sibelius, Jean : Symphony no 5 in E flat major, Op. 82
Conductor Ensemble
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Composer

Notes & Reviews:

On this second volume of Sibelius, the acclaimed young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen interprets two of his compatriot's most contrasting symphonies. The Symphony No. 4 is a work of ominous brooding and bleak desolation, reflecting Sibelius's psychological state at the time of its composition. Sibelius commented of his much-revised and expansively heroic Symphony No. 5 'It is as if God the Father had thrown down mosaic pieces from heaven's floor and asked me to put them back as they were.'

"In 2008 the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra released a delicious recording of orchestral odds-and-ends by Sibelius that was so good it had many of us clamouring for more.

And more we got. Last autumn the orchestra released the first disc in a Sibelius symphony cycle, again under its Finnish Music Director Pietari Inkinen. They began with the First and Third Symphonies, and the results were a let-down. Where was the fine articulation, the deft pacing and the lucid clarity we'd heard before?

Well wherever they got to, they're back. Here the NZSO is at the heart of Sibelius's symphonic oeuvre with the chilling Fourth - spawned at the height of the composer's battle with alcohol and debt - and the searing Fifth - inspired by Sibelius' glimpsing of a flock of swans soaring upwards over Lake Järvenpää. No two of Sibelius's symphonic neighbours pose as striking a contrast as these.

In the former, the NZSO musters rare tension and foreboding. Inkinen isn't afraid to let the music's silences breathe, and he finds a steely clarity - notably in the hand-stopped horns and vibrato-less clarinet - that's perfect for this eerie musical line-drawing.

The playing isn't as beautiful or imposing as that of Colin Davis' LSO recording, but it's more moody. Until, that is, Inkinen weakens the impact of the five disorientating mezzo-forte chords that end the piece by warming them up in an enforced rallentando. It feels like we've suddenly escaped the mists.

That's a shame, particularly when the Fifth symphony can provide its own relief from such desolation. In that piece Inkinen pivots the opening movement on the appearance of the legato trumpet theme; there's extraordinary cumulative tension before it and an intricate 'working down' after it.

Sometimes you don't experience the counterpoints like you do with Davis and others, as when the orchestra folds outwards in contrary motion against itself. But structurally it has huge impact. In the finale there are no surprises, just the right control of tempi and volume to give maximum effect at the dropping away of Sibelius' pedal-note 'runway' and the majestic upward flight of his swans.

So, bring on the remaining symphonies. But could we please have a Kiwi Lemminkäinen, too? That's the piece most suited to this orchestra's cute filigree detailing. If his band can retain this form, I have a feeling Inkinen would nail it."-BBC Music

"Naxos really seems to have struck gold with the young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen...In many ways, Inkinen is an uncompromisingly direct Sibelius interpreter, willing to trust the composer's wonderful sense of musical architecture and orchestral colour"-The Guardian

"[In No. 4] the NZSO musters rare tension and foreboding. Inkinen isn't afraid to let the music's silences breathe, and he finds a steely clarity - notably in the hand-stopped horns and vibrato-less clarinet - that's perfect for this eerie musical line-drawing." -Andrew Mellor, bbc.co.uk

"The whole series is powerfully played and directed." -Sunday Telegraph 2011 ****

"Inkinen proves a relatively cool, self-effacing guide, eschewing originality for its own sake in the pursuit of sweet-tempered naturalness...it is the restraint that impresses most...Inkinen makes the music sounds as though it's playing itself." -Gramophone Magazine

"The Fourth has rare tension and foreboding - Inkinen isn't afraid to let the silences breathe and the textures have a steely clarity...The Fifth is structurally impressive; the first movement pivots on the initial 'flight' theme heard on legato trumpets (there's great tension before it and huge release after it) while the moment of ascent in the finale comes off very well." -Classic FM Magazine ****

New Zealand Listener
Other than his underwhelming climaxes in No 1, Inkinen hits the mark with all other six. It says much of him and the NZSO that this is one of the most consummate versions in a competitive market for Sibelius's most popular symphony. It's the same with his No 3. String detail is crisp even in the difficult viola writing in the first movement. There is an interesting inverse correlation between popularity and greatness in Sibelius, which reaches its peak in No 4, to my mind his greatest work, yet his least popular. Clarity is to the fore, too, in the popular No 5, with crisp woodwind detail and the swaggering positivity of what Donald Tovey called "Thor swinging his hammer" in the finale. The self-effacing No 6, with its pastoral serenity almost hiding its intellectual subtlety, is so modest it sounds chamber orchestra-like much of the time. No 7's powerful contraction of thought creates a sense of scale well beyond its 20-minute time frame.

The Classical Review
fresh, vivacious accounts of familiar music distinguished by illuminating attention to detail and playing of real verve and feeling ... a reading of the Fourth Symphony that enabled "one [to] hear the music with clean ears", while the Fifth was marked by "dignified, unforced music making." At the price, an essential disc.

American Record Guide
I have not heard Inkinen's earlier Naxos recording of Symphonies 1 and 3...but if this newcomer is any indication, his Sibelius is similar but more interesting than Sakari's. The conductor's control is total, and the performances are delineated, transparent, light in weight, evenly balanced between the instrumental choirs, and played with great concentration. I'm not sure how large an orchestra Inkinen is using, but the approach befits chamber music, though it bears little resemblance to the "small orchestra" set with Paavo Berglund leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Finlandia). I don't care for that Berglund set, which I find too razor-sharp, and I do like what Inkinen has given us.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand.



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Works Details

>Sibelius, Jean : Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63
  • Conductor: Pietari Inkinen
  • Notes: Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand (09/21/2009-09/23/2009)
  • Running Time: 35 min. 54 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Form: Orchestral
  • Written: 1910-1911

>Sibelius, Jean : Symphony no 5 in E flat major, Op. 82
  • Conductor: Pietari Inkinen
  • Notes: Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand (10/16/2008-10/18/2008)
  • Running Time: 33 min. 4 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Form: Orchestral
  • Written: 1919