For a number of reasons, this new release from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra strikes me as extremely intelligent on non-musical grounds alone. Robert Spano's predecessor Yoel Levi recorded Symphonies 1 and 5 for Telarc with this very orchestra, as well as a fine 2nd Symphony in Cleveland on the same label. So the many fans of this great American orchestra don't have to duplicate any major works, and get to hear Spano and their hometown band in more Sibelius. ASO Media has so far proven to be one of the more interesting self-produced labels on the market, with less needless repertoire duplication than the norm. Oh right, you want to know about the CD.
This is becoming a more common coupling these days, and in fact the program directly mirrors Osmo Vanska's excellent recording on BIS. But Spano is a very fine conductor, and a great Sibelian as well. Having just reviewed Hans Rosbaud's mostly horrible Cologne 6th, this is like a breath of fresh air. For starters, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra sounds simply stunning, with richly detailed strings and smashing wind playing that rivals anything on the market. From the opening bars, I love the delicate hesitancy that Spano creates; compare this to both of Colin Davis' readings, and you may find the latter a touch matter-of-fact. There's a breathtaking sense of anticipation and atmosphere that I really appreciate. The Allegretto is measured – I prefer it a bit faster – but there's nothing wrong with the richness of the playing on hand. The third movement looks slower still on paper, but it's alive with rhythmic alacrity and the slower tempos arguably allow for little details to register with more clarity. The finale is perhaps best of all, a sharpness of attack and fullness of tone that is complimented by outstanding sound quality. Spano really lets his players go all out, and they give him everything he asks for. A tremendous rendition.
The 7th is just as fine, and features the same qualities of the 6th. Spano really understands how to shape the music in long, arching phrases, and it creates a very memorable reading, full of great character. Again, the strings and winds are something legitimately special, and the ASO Media engineers have captured their players in spectacular and spacious sound. As for Tapiola, Yoel Levi didn't record this for Telarc either, but even if he had, I doubt it would have surpassed this tremendously convincing take. Everything is gorgeous, and fills out the disc generously. If you care about this music, this is an essential purchase.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman