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CD Review

Jean Sibelius

Symphonies, Volume 4

  • Symphony #6 in D minor, Op. 104
  • Symphony #7 in C Major, Op. 105
  • Finlandia, Op. 26
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
Naxos 8.572705
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These are fairly brisk and spirited readings of both the Sibelius Sixth and Seventh symphonies. Don't take that to mean that anything is rushed, however, as tempo choices are always well within reasonable standards. The Sixth starts off with the strings playing the beautiful Dorian modal theme with warmth and longing. The livelier music that follows brims with joy, and Inkinen draws quite accurate and ebullient playing from his New Zealand orchestra, though some of the bass lines in the buildup midway through get a little muddled. But there's not much to carp about here or in the succeeding Allegretto moderato movement that follows. The brief but infectious third movement comes across with plenty of spirit, and one could wish for no better a performance than what Inkinen and company deliver here. The finale, the longest movement of the four and also the most varied in materials, presents no problems for Inkinen and the New Zealanders: the music – a mixture of the profound and the joyous, the ponderous and the perplexing – comes across with a deft sense for its shifting moods and dark character. Certainly this performance of the symphony is one of the strongest ones available today. Ashkenazy (Decca), Maazel (Sony), and Sakari (Naxos), are all worthwhile efforts, and there are perhaps several more, but this new one by Inkinen can stand with the better accounts.

The Seventh Symphony is given perhaps an even better performance. Again, Inkinen brilliantly captures the shifting character of this work, which to me is Sibelius' most puzzling symphony. This one-movement work can seem episodic in the hands of a lesser conductor, but Inkinen draws everything together with intelligence and a sense for structure. While Bernstein (DG), Colin Davis (originally Philips, now on Pentatone), Segerstam (Chandos), and others deliver fine performances of this work, Inkinen's will vie for honors with Bernstein in my book.

There have been scores of fine recordings of Finlandia too, probably Sibelius' most popular work. This entry by Inkinen is also excellent. The work, for all its sincere patriotism, is a little on the bombastic side, though one must concede that bombast is a legitimate quality in such works. Anyway, this rendering of the work is a splendid one and rounds out a fine program of Sibelius here. The sound reproduction in all works is powerful and clear.

This disc, by the way, is the final one in Inkinen's Sibelius cycle. Too bad I missed several of the earlier entries in this series because judging from this disc and Inkinen's recording of the Second, which I reviewed a little while back, they would certainly have been worthwhile. In sum, this new disc is a winner.

Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings