Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, The Tempest, Suite No. 1. Petri Sakari, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554266.

What, you say you don't want to lay out thirty bucks for the Barbirolli gold disc of the Sibelius Second on Chesky? OK, how about considerably less money for this pleasant little Naxos release? It isn't the ultimate in refinement or interpretive flair, but it is a good, solid performer.

The Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is perhaps the man's most popular work, outside of the ubiquitous "Finlandia," and there are many fine recordings of the symphony available. If you already own a favorite (the aforementioned Barbirolli disc for me), you may stop reading now and continue on with the next review. If, on the other hand, you are new to Sibelius or you are exploring alternative readings, this medium-priced issue seems a good investment.

Petri Sakari
Maestro Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra handle the first movement especially well, conveying a proper, shivery introduction leading up to a probing major subject. If there is any minor disappointment, it is in the heroic final theme, which sounds a bit too homogenized for my taste. For an unfair comparison here, try Herbert von Karajan, the master of the grand gesture, on EMI, and Sakari will seem positively staid. But it isn't so bad in context and should not distract one from a possible purchase.

In sum, Sakari and his forces provide an ardent and colorful journey through Sibelius's characteristic landscape. Plus, the inclusion of the first suite of tunes from Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest makes a good companion piece. Sakari's interpretation brings out much of the music's imagination and color.

The sound likewise is pretty good, although not in the absolute top class. There is a pleasing concert hall ambience present that enriches verisimilitude while doing relatively little harm to detail clarity. It's rich, smooth, and resonant. And the music for The Tempest sounds equally fine.

This disc may not carry the mark of authority manifest by conductors like Sir John Barbirolli, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Colin Davis, or Vladimir Ashkenazy, but it is fair value for the dollar.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa