David's Review Corner
, September 2007
Originally issued over a number of years, revisiting this Sibelius symphony cycle has increased my admiration of Petri Sakari’s uncomplicated, idiomatic and thoughtfully conceived readings. Maybe some will find the strings lacking the well-padded quality of the Boston Symphony, Vienna Philharmonic or the San Francisco orchestras, to name but a few, but their lean sound captures the wind that whistles through the Finnish landscape with more chill than you will find elsewhere. Indeed you feel that they have Sibelius’s frozen wastes in their lifeblood. Their Finnish-born principal conductor immediately sets the scene in the jagged outburst of the opening movement to the First symphony, the work’s cataclysmic climaxes topped off with powerful timpani. Those hammer blows return in the scherzo, not hard driven by Sakari who gives the brass time to articulate with accuracy. When Sibelius’s ice melts, we have some lovely woodwind solos to bring a radiant warmth to the Second Symphony, the brass moving to a more rounded tone, while the lower strings grunt wonderfully in the finale. I love Sakari’s purposeful opening to the Third, the dynamic shading through the work keenly observed, some passages taken dangerously slow are doubly telling in their effect. The lilting second movement has an unusual degree of melancholy, the disjointed aspects of the finale accentuated. Like a monster waking from his slumbers, Sakari opens the Fourth in darkness and rarely allows shafts of light to invade the whole work. By contrast the Fifth is vibrantly alive, often exhilarating and finally triumphant. Finally warmth in the Sixth and drama in the Seventh, the set adding the two quite extensive Tempest Suites for good measure. There is an abundance of star-studded performances of the complete symphonies in the catalogue, better played and more glossily recorded, but once heard I would find great difficulty in parting with the Icelanders. Indeed I don’t think we could come closer to the heart of the music. The recordings are in a cardboard box outer, individual jewel cases retaining the excellent original programme notes.