Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (CD review)
The Fourth Symphony (1911) of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is one of the man's bleaker but more-characterful works. The music always reminds me of a vast, flat, icy plain, maybe in Lapland, brooding in silence. That's the way young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen appears to see it, too, carving huge chunks of desolation from the music. It opens with a theme "as harsh as Fate," as the composer described it, and Inkinen follows through.
The succeeding Allegro molto vivace, which Inkinen takes rather leisurely, brings a note of great serenity to the otherwise dark proceedings, but then it also turns slightly sinister (although never threatening).
The slow Largo section Sibelius originally labeled "The Thoughts of a Wayfarer." It maintains the dour climate of the piece, with Inkinen emphasizing its mysterious nature at the expensive of capitalizing too much on its atmospheric mood shifts, instead interpreting it in a fairly static manner. In its favor, this establishes a good continuity in the music, even if it tends toward sameness.
While the final Allegro opens brightly, even cheerfully, promising a sudden change of temperament, it soon reverts to the desolation of the opening movement. Again, Inkinen is skillful at delineating these large, bleak landscapes.
Symphony No. 5, which Sibelius premiered in 1915 and revised in 1916 and again in 1919, is shorter than No. 4, here comprising only three movements. The feeling of No. 5 is far less heavy than No. 4, even if Inkinen seems to take delight in making connections to it, as though it were a continuation of the previous symphony, moving from darkness into light. The Andante is particularly delicate, and the finale, with its "swan" music, is quite sunny and attractive.
Would I give up Maazel (Decca), Davis (Philips or RCA), or Barbirolli (EMI) for this new issue by Inkinen? No, but I wouldn't turn it down, either.
Recorded in 2008 (No. 5) and 2009 (No. 4) at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, the sound is big, warm, and resonant. There isn't much depth to the orchestral stage or much punch or snap to the dynamics, yet in No. 4, especially, the sonics seem perfectly appropriate to the music. Besides, when the high percussive notes come in, they ring out all the more sweetly and persuasively through the softer sound field.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.