Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 (CD review)

Also, The Tempest, Suite No. 2. Petri Sakari, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554387.

In order for any performance of a work by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) to reach a level of excellence, it must display equal measures of boreal iciness and dreamy northern vistas. It helps, I suppose, that a Finnish conductor, Petri Sakari, and an Icelandic orchestra play the music on the present Naxos disc.

The cold is probably in their bones, and it's especially evident in the opening movement of the Sixth Symphony, the star of the set. There is an air of chill in the soft winds, leading to a gentle but coolly illuminated second movement, a fairly active scherzo, and a strong finale, wanting only in a touch of mystery.

Petri Sakari
The Seventh Symphony is somewhat different from the Sixth. It is quite brief at little over twenty minutes in length, and while demonstrating the traditional four-movement layout, we usually hear it as a single, uninterrupted unit. Still, the Seventh appears more massive and more substantial than the Sixth, a kind of synthesis, perhaps, of all that the composer had done before it. Sibelius seems to have condensed the essence of his bucolic wintry spirit into the work, and Maestro Sakari understands the importance of keeping the piece together and not letting it flake off into separate icy splinters. He maintains the work's cohesion and conveys its solemnity and triumph quite well.

Three of my comparison discs in these works were from Sir Colin Davis (RCA and Philips) and Sir John Barbirolli (EMI), the latter of whom has long been a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, making comparisons with well-established favorites may come out unfairly biased, so it's maybe no wonder I preferred them. Nevertheless, it is a measure of Sakari's skill that he more than holds his own with the other conductors, if never with quite the same characterful personality to his music-making.

Sound is another matter, and the Naxos engineers have served up a distinctive recording. It is a bit more rounded and more natural than the much older EMI recording, while not so transparent or robust as the RCA (or even the Philips). Still, this 2000 Naxos release has good range, good breadth, and good imaging, although I felt the cellos and first violins sounded a bit too close.

Overall, for its modest price, to get both the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and a fascinating filler in Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest seems a pretty good deal.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa