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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Osmo Vänskä’s account of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies brings his cycle to a fitting climax. The Sixth is serene yet taut, and the Seventh particularly fine, both in pacing and character. Vänskä reading of Tapiola has a thrilling intensity and if it is not the equal of Karajan or Beecham, it is certainly among the very best of the others. The Lahti Orchestra always plays with enthusiasm and fire, and the BIS recording is first class.

Petri Sakari’s Sixth Symphony is the best we have had since Vänskä: it is thoughtful, well prepared and dedicated, and even if the Iceland Orchestra is not in the same league as the Vienna Philharmonic or the Concertgebouw, they are a very good ensemble. The Seventh is powerful and has breadth and majesty; not the equal of Colin Davis, perhaps, but eminently satisfying all the same. The second suite from The Tempest is magnificent (the Chorus of the Winds sounds quite magical) and full of mystery and atmosphere, and the well-balanced sound does credit to all concerned.

Philip Haldeman
American Record Guide, June 2001

The tempered approach works well here, especially in 6 and The Tempest, but also in 7, though Beecham and Barbirolli fans may argue.

In 6, after a heartfelt opening in the strings (nearly as heartfelt as Vänskä’s), the orchestra gets the flowing ebullience of 1 just right, and without the fragmentation that can mess it up. The string choirs sing, separate, combine, and re-combine in the most natural way. Sakari exposes the composer’s miraculously transparent textures. He takes a few risks at these somewhat slow tempos, but the rhythmic pauses are bridged without loss of focus. I’ve heard orchestras lose the thread of this music, but not here. Criticism might be leveled at a slight loss of spontaneity in II, but one never feels the music is dull, as in Sakari’s 2. The icy sleigh ride of III is a jubilant rondo, poco vivace, and as good as any. IV misses a little of the underlying reverie at the opening, but Sakari has a graceful, lyrical style that feels just right…that goes for 7 as well. What I want in this 22-minute piece is a kinship to the final movement of the Tchaikovsky 6. Not the full pathos, but something of the melancholy, with a touch of the valedictorian. Sakari delivers it with satisfying refinement…Suite 2 from The Tempest is from the composer’s final period and is written for a somewhat smaller ensemble that Suite 1. Sakari can’t be beat at Sibelius’s shorter pieces, and this sweet, airy traversal is among the most lyrical-sealing my approval…is one of the great bargains in Sibelius catalog…

Paul Driver
, November 2000

THIS DISC is an excellent addition to the Sibelius discography and a convenient encapsulation of his late style. Here, apart form the tone poem Tapiola, is the last music he composed: two astoundingly original, highly contrasted symphonies and a selection from his Tempest incidental music, arguably the most perfect match between a score and a Shakespeare play since Mendelssohn’s for A Midsummer Night’s dream. The Icelandic orchestra and their Finnish conductor have an unmistakable feeling for Sibelius’s elliptical idiom: clipped phrasing, strange twists and turns of form, trompe d’oreille movement endings, dramatic tempo modulations. Perhaps the move into the scherzo stretch of the one-movement Seventh is a trifle jerky, but the polyphonic grandeur is magnificently rendered, and the playing in all three works is fresh-toned, vigorous, richly sonorous.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, October 2000

A rewarding final installment in Petri Sakari’s Sibelius symphony cycle for Naxos—minimal wallet-damage is guaranteed

Yet another commendable anthology from Petri Sakari and the Iceland orchestra—a most enjoyable conclusion to their Sibelius symphony cycle for Naxos. Sakari’s Sixth impresses by dint of its unpretentious honesty and quiet cogency. As on previous installments within this series, the Icelanders respond with a keen fervour as contagious as it is heartwarming. Their woodwind roster comprises an especially personable bunch, and if the strings inevitably lack that very last ounce of tonal clout and sheer composure provided by, say, Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic or the San Francisco Symphony under Blomstedt—to name but two of the strongest rivals—there’s no missing the touching expressive warmth they bring to the work’s transcendental closing pages. In Sakari’s hands both outer movements develop real fire and purpose, and he uncovers plenty of happy detail along the way—the distinctive colouring of the bass clarinet being one of this performance’s chief pleasures.

Sakari’s Seventh, too, is very good indeed, patient and imaginative in the manner of Vänskä, or Sanderling’s much underrated, irresistibly sinewy 1974 recording with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. I suppose the Iceland Symphony’s principal trombonist could have been just a touch more assertive for that heroic initial solo six bars after fig C, and the timpanist appears to enter a bar late just before fig E, but my only sizeable niggle concerns Sakari’s not-quite-seamless handling of that tricky Poco a poco affrettando transition passage into the Vivacissimo section beginning at fig J, itself not entirely free of a certain breathless fluster. All of which means, of course, that Sakari’s conception as a whole is not as thrillingly inevitable an experience as Koussevitzky’s, Maazel’s (a magnificent reading, sounding fresher than ever on a new Decca Legends compilation) or Boult’s masterly 1963 concert relay with the RPO (to be reviewed next month). I don’t want to be too critical, though; Sakari builds the shattering Largamente climax at fig Z superbly, and the closing bars are exceptionally fine. Not a front-runner, perhaps, but no mean achievement all the same.

A very likeable release, then, whose attractions are enhanced by the inclusion of a thoughtful and shapely account of the rarely heard Second Suite from Sibelius’s 1925 incidental music for The Tempest. The balance here is perhaps a little closer than ideal; otherwise, the open, airy recorded sound falls very gratefully on the ear (listen out for some notably natural bass sonorities). Well worth investigating at Naxos price.

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