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Ian Dando
New Zealand Listener, February 2012

SIBELIUS, J.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (New Zealand Symphony, Inkinen) 8.572305
SIBELIUS, J.: Symphony No. 2 / Karelia Suite (New Zealand Symphony, Inkinen) 8.572704
SIBELIUS, J.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (New Zealand Symphony, Inkinen) 8.572227
SIBELIUS, J.: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 / Finlandia (New Zealand Symphony, Inkinen) 8.572705

Other than his underwhelming climaxes in No 1, Inkinen hits the mark with all other six. In the finale to No 2, for instance…Inkinen brings a vitality to this long and repetitive shape I haven’t heard from others. It says much of him and the NZSO that this is one of the most consummate versions in a competitive market for Sibelius’s most popular symphony.

It’s the same with his No 3. String detail is crisp even in the difficult viola writing in the first movement. You won’t get a better No 3 on the market than this.

There is an interesting inverse correlation between popularity and greatness in Sibelius, which reaches its peak in No 4, to my mind his greatest work, yet his least popular. How well Inkinen portrays its desolate bleakness… Inkinen turns this into one of Sibelius’s most ominous moments.

Clarity is to the fore, too, in the popular No 5, with crisp woodwind detail and the swaggering positivity of what Donald Tovey called “Thor swinging his hammer” in the finale. The self-effacing No 6, with its pastoral serenity almost hiding its intellectual subtlety, is so modest it sounds chamber orchestra-like much of the time. Inkinen exposes its motivic interrelations well.

No 7’s powerful contraction of thought creates a sense of scale well beyond its 20-minute time frame. Its most sublime section, a chorale two-and-a-half minutes in that starts with divisi eight-part strings, is blossomed out endearingly by Inkinen. I imagine No 7 might be his personal favourite. © 2012 New Zealand Listener Read complete review

Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, March 2011

This is the third Sibelius CD by the New Zealand Symphony under its young Finnish music director, who assumed the post in 2008; it is also, according to the jewel-case blurb, the first installment in “a new Naxos series,” which almost certainly means a complete traversal of the Sibelius symphonies, the label’s third. Inkinen’s first two Sibelius programs for Naxos, composed of selections from the tone poems and incidental music, were first-rate in every way—interpretations, orchestral execution, and recorded sound—so I opened this one with considerable anticipation and high expectations.

The symphonies, of course, present far more extensive and formidable interpretive challenges than much of the other orchestral music of Sibelius that Inkinen has recorded to date, and the recorded competition is prodigious, with at least 20 of the three dozen complete recorded editions currently available. In this first installment of what promises to be cycle 37, Inkinen asserts his individuality right at the outset, allowing his excellent principal clarinetist an unusual degree of freedom in phrasing the First Symphony’s opening solo. The ensuing Allegro is indeed energico—ardent and dynamic. The important woodwind solos are lovely, and Naxos’s sound is wonderfully transparent. The second movement is just as fine, expressive and wistful at the opening and close, but featuring a powerful central climax. In the Scherzo, Inkinen indulges his occasional tendency to plod—my one criticism of his earlier Sibelius recordings—and threatens to weigh down the proceedings; this movement needs, well, to move in order to provide sufficient contrast to the surrounding music. The opening of the Finale and the big C-Major tune are imposing and impressive; the development (the Allegro molto come prima at Figure K in the Dover score) strikes me as perhaps a notch too cautious. Overall, this is a large-scale First, one of only a handful that last more than 40 minutes, but still deserving a place in the top tier along with Davis (Philips), Ormandy (Sony), Rattle (EMI), and Blomstedt (Decca).

The Third, on the other hand, sounds to me as though Inkinen is trying to do too much. This is Sibelius’s most “classical” symphony, but the present performance sounds too often like an attempt to make it sound as “romantic” as the First and Second. The opening is already very deliberate, with the third beat of each measure incongruously accented; the beginning of the development (the Tranquillo at Figure 5) and the coda (Figure 16: un largamente, or the slightest bit more broadly) are exaggeratedly slower than the main body of the movement. The second movement is tonally very beautiful—again featuring very fine wind solos—but is taken so deliberately that it gives the impression of six beats per measure rather than two. Things get back on track in the last movement, whose tricky opening is deftly handled, and which overall works well, but this is a fairly idiosyncratic reading, and not one I imagine returning to nearly as often as the First.

At their best, as they are for most of the First Symphony, Inkinen and the NZSO continue to be a most impressive team of Sibelius interpreters; producer/engineer Tim Handley continues to get wonderful results in Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre; and, the price is right. This is a very fine first installment in a series that will definitely bear continued watching.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, January 2011

When I first played this disk I wondered exactly what Inkinen was trying to tell us. His interpretation of the 1st Symphony seemed to be at odds with what I understood this music to be about. I thought that perhaps his was some new kind of revisionist, existential, view, where the conductor stands back from the music and displays it dispassionately. I simply couldn’t make head or tail of it. After a couple of hearings I am starting to grasp the essentials of the performance. The single most important point about this performance is that Inkinen manages to dispel any ideas that this is a work heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky. He displays a Symphony which, most emphatically, is not a romantic piece in the grand manner; rather it has the kind of classical sensibility to be found in the 3rd Symphony.

In general the performance is good, but there are strange lapses. In the first movement there is, occasionally, a lack of tension which made me feel that Inkinen was more interested in the various episodes rather than the movement as a whole, and at the moment where the timpani thunder out the rhythm of the main theme, in augmentation—08:51—the drums are almost inaudible, thus weakening the climactic flash. Indeed, throughout the timpani are reduced to sounding like dull thuds in the distance. Also, Inkinen indulges in romantic rubato and he pulls the tempo round to suit his vision. This is at odds with his overall classical view; sometimes it jars and at other times it works. The slow movement has lots of atmosphere and well built climaxes, the scherzo is quite small in scale, and almost Schubertian, whilst the finale has a nicely paced race across the frozen wastes and the big tune soars as it should. At the end I was left with two nagging feelings. Good though this performance is, for me, there is a lack of real impetus; we’re spectators and we’re not taking part in the adventure. At times, the orchestra sounds understrung, but this, surely, must be the fault of the recording, which places the players at some distance from the microphones and the space weakens the overall effect.

The 3rd Symphony is much better suited to Inkinen’s approach. Indeed, the interpretation is more rounded than that of the 1st. The opening movement is supposed to represent fog on the English Channel and Inkinen plays the music with a slightly fuzzy, unclear, veneer which is perfect, so when the climax happens, at the start of the recapitulation the sun breaks through. We’re then in the brightest light and the music is clear and precise—but the timpani are till too backwardly balanced. The intermezzo second movement is a delight. Inkinen simply allows the music to float around the themes and weave a magical spell. The third movement, which rolls scherzo and finale into one contains a good transition from one section to the other and the latter part is made all the more powerful for the former being somewhat lightweight. The ending is all power and strength.

Although the performance of the 1st Symphony isn’t to my taste, nor does it seem to be truly well thought out, the 3rd is excellent and this alone bodes well for a complete cycle of the Finnish master’s Symphonies. The recording of the 3rd is more immediate than that of the 1st, with the orchestra closer to the microphones, and the detail clearer and cleaner.

Donald R Vroon
American Record Guide, January 2011

There is something wrong with every recording of Symphony 1. Hardly anyone is as romantic as Barbirolli (EMI), but the Halle Orchestra sounds very crude. So does Stokowski’s English orchestra. So does the New York Philharmonic—and Bernstein is just too impetuous and impatient. Maazel’s Pittsburgh recording has perhaps the best orchestral playing and sound on records, but he seems rather subdued much of the time. Colin Davis is too cold. Esa-Pekka Saraste is wonderfully bracing and very Northern, but could use a little more warmth. And so it goes.

Naxos recorded this at least once before, but this time they have a wonderful conductor. Conductors are best when they are young and old. When they are young their emotions and sexuality can enter into their music unabashedly, almost automatically. And we forgive them their emotionalism and exaggerations. When they enter the middle years and develop a reputation, they begin to care too much what others think of them and they become cautious. But when they get old enough they no longer care what people think of them and they let it rip. Sometimes they return to the emotionalism of youth, sometimes they seem to be reliving youthful sexuality, and sometimes it’s just no longer necessary to hold the emotions in check. Think how many conductors prove this pattern true!

So here is a young conductor who became Music Director of the New Zealand Symphony in 2008. He is not trying to impress anyone as “fiery” or “hot”. He is Finnish; he understands that Northern icy temperament. But he is young, and he feels the music—it’s not old hat to him yet, not just another Sibelius symphony. It’s still fresh, and he still enters into it with his whole heart and gives it everything he’s got—which is a lot. Only Barbirolli takes slower tempos, but never does this conductor sound like a sentimental old man; the music flashes and sparkles.

In the last movement there are big romantic moments 4 minutes in and again at 9 minutes. They are perfectly conducted here, but they are a little better played in Pittsburgh (Maazel) and Helsinki (Saraste). Both those orchestras seem a bit farther from the microphones, so the sound blooms, aided by the hall. They bring shivers; the New Zealanders seem more prosaic, though they are very good.

I was amazed when I first heard this. The second time I decided to listen for faults—there is no perfect recording, and the first time I hadn’t listened to the music in many months, so I was perhaps too easily seduced by it. Well, it’s hard to find fault. They don’t mess anything up, but nor do they measure up to the best orchestras that have recorded this. Still, they are far better than Barbirolli’s Halle and much better recorded. If the strings aren’t quite lush enough to bring me to tears, they are still very beautiful—and the same goes for the wind solos. The sound is simply superb. And I do think Mr Inkinen feels the music much the way Barbirolli did—very romantically. The young man and the old man come out a lot alike.

No. 1 is my favorite Sibelius symphony. I suppose that makes me unusual. I also really like No. 3, and that is even more unusual. It’s an atmosphere piece. So is No. 6, but 6 is ALL atmosphere, whereas 3 has unforgettable melodies too. I end up humming parts of it for days after I’ve listened to it.

Again, this recording will not replace the very best ones, but it is far better than most. Mr Inkinen understands the piece and again conducts it ideally. All his conducting is faultless and admirable on this release.

Back to where we started: will he turn out to be another conductor “of great promise” who ends up conforming to the pack? And if he does most of his life, will he come back in old age as one of the great and truly original ones? Most of them don’t; they just build a reputation because there aren’t many great conductors out there. How refreshing early Ozawa seemed—and early Mehta and Abbado and Maazel. But how dull their middle years were!

I will eagerly listen to anything Pietari Inkinen conducts. I will hold out the hope that he can follow his own vision and respond spontaneously and intuitively to the music. He may bring a great many other warhorses alive again.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, December 2010

This disc announces a brand-new Sibelius symphony cycle from Naxos under the baton of conductor Pietari Inkinen. At first I didn’t believe it: Naxos already has two cycles, and the number of core-repertoire works it has recorded three times is minuscule. Then I put the CD in the player and was in disbelief again: these symphonies are really conducted by the same person? The Third Symphony is excellent, finely detailed and driven forward with great rhythmic snap, while the First Symphony floats along in a solemn, murky haze.

Things get off to an ominous start with the First Symphony’s clarinet solo: played very well, but recorded too brightly, giving a smiling edge to a solo which ought to sound as if it is rising up from the depths. The main allegro takes off with insufficient forward momentum, as if the whole thing is being caught in ever-so-slight slow motion. This really begins to tell at 2:07, when the horns and timpani are curiously timid, and in the big Tchaikovskian moments in the strings afterwards, lacking in energy - especially uninspiring is the recap of this moment at 8:00. The same lazy tempi afflict the usually very violent outburst in the slow movement, the entire scherzo (here sleepy), and the oddly disjointed cataclysms of the finale. Indeed, the finale seems to get slower and heavier as it moves along, rather the way many conductors these days conduct Shostakovich’s Fifth, except that Sibelius is not Shostakovich, and the result is that the movement (Allegro molto!) becomes just tiresome.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic recorded this symphony only a few years ago and set a new benchmark for thrills, passion, and sheer excitement, with a finale that always seems at danger of running off the rails - and then, of course, it does, just as Sibelius wished - and imposing brass and timpani all around. Listen to the two back-to-back and Inkinen’s performance sounds a bit like a rehearsal to make sure everyone can play the notes.

There are good moments in this Inkinen First, and one great one: the second subject of the first movement is delivered with extraordinary intimacy and, when it is entrusted to the clarinet, there is a moment of actual magic (9:52-11:00). The clarinet, the harp, the trumpet, the horns sneaking in: all perfect. The New Zealand first trumpet and flute deliver especially haunting solos. But the intimacy and intensity of this moment would have been even better had they contrasted with a really tempestuous climate – the calm between storms. Unfortunately, this performance is all calm and no storms.

I started to listen to the Third with trepidation – so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be excellent! This performance actually has the necessary pacing to make the symphony work, and work wonderfully: the first movement opens up like a sunrise and is positively radiant throughout, and the finale bubbles up naturally from its humble beginnings. The “big tune” is indulged just a little bit before the symphony builds to a thoroughly impressive climax. Best of all, though, is Inkinen’s slow movement, maybe my favorite reading of this movement: time seems not to exist here, because even though the computer tells me this is a slow reading, it whisks me through a world of fantasy. There is a ghostly procession of some kind (2:10 on, aided by the lovely muted strings), and later on the flute, clarinet, and oboe contribute outstanding solos. It doesn’t get any better than this.

The most frustrating things to review are not the outright bad things but those which could have been great had just one or two elements been different. This is a hugely frustrating CD, because Pietari Inkinen’s Third Symphony is the equal of any currently available - my other favorites are Segerstam in Helsinki, Davis on LSO Live, and Olli Mustonen’s very different view on Ondine - but his First simply lacks the necessary energy. Instead, try Mark Elder’s excellent Hallé album, Davis in Boston, or, best of all, Berglund or Segerstam in Helsinki. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays with consistent excellence and the engineers do a good job, excepting that over-bright clarinet solo, which makes this review even more frustrating. Can I recommend this CD? I do not think so. If you can find an mp3 download site, like ClassicsOnline or Passionato, which allows you to download the Third Symphony only, that is your best option.

The mp3 option is particularly attractive because the presentation of this disc is not inspiring. Keith Anderson has written exactly the same liner-note he wrote for the Petri Sakari Sibelius disc, with two sentences of new material but with an old grammar mistake uncorrected. There is another advantage to not buying a physical CD: if you spend too much time reading the back of the case, you will notice that the cover photo of the Northern Lights was snapped not in Sibelius’ native Finland but in Canada. Now why did they do that?

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

I liked Pietari Inkinen’s earlier Naxos recording of Sibelius’s Scènes historiques and King Christian II Suites (8.570068 - see my review and review by Bob Briggs, who also welcomed the CD) and I also recommended his recording of Night Ride and Sunrise, etc (8.570563, Feb. 2009 Download Roundup), so I expected good things of this new recording. I was not seriously disappointed, but I thought both the performance and the sound occasionally not quite the equal of the earlier programme—the latter not a serious problem by any means, but perhaps even 320kb/s mp3 can’t cope with Sibelius at full blast and one needs the CD or a lossless download. You will probably have to wait several months for that until, who offer versions of most earlier Naxos recordings, catch up with this issue. The coupling of the neo-Tchaikovskian but unmistakably Sibelian First and the much sparser Third is illuminating, especially as these performances reveal details in both which I hadn’t noticed before.

Other providers offer Naxos downloads, but only that from classicsonline comes complete with excellent notes from Keith Anderson, which are also available to subscribers to the Naxos Music Library: I just wish that Naxos had given him more room to write about the two symphonies, without repeating general biographical details.

Greg Keane
Limelight, December 2010

I was amazed to read one review of this performance of Sibelius’s First Symphony which confidently asserted that Pietari Inkinen was to be congratulated on his achievement in effacing virtually all traces of Tchaikovsky from the music—as if that were a major criterion in assessing it! Inkinen is no young man in a hurry in Sibelius: his account of the First Symphony, at 40 mins, is one of the longest in the catalogue. His certainly doesn’t stint on the Romantic rhetoric either, pace my fellow reviewer. His reading is leisurely and well upholstered—poles apart from, say, Osmo Vänska’s trim, taut and terrific approach. These recordings are quite closely miked, meaning, inter alia, we hear plenty of harp throughout, especially in my favourite passage, the delicate section of the slow movement where sonic magic is made by the harp, woodwinds and triangle. Alas, the string sound is occasionally thin but, in general, the playing is distinguished and the timpani is well captured in the scherzo. In the unjustly neglected Third—just as elusive in its own way as the Sixth—Inkinen inclines toward steady tempos and I particularly like the way he manages the often awkward transition from the central section (which never seems to be able to decide whether it’s a slow movement or scherzo) to the finale so deftly. Here, the tempi pay off, with a truly heroic thrust and the horns whooping wildly, making his a highly enjoyable reading. These performances don’t surpass the likes of Karajan (EMI) in the First of Kletzki (Testament) in the Third, but they are thoroughly recommendable.

Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, December 2010

On this new recording, one need only listen to the Andante second movement of the Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39 by Jean Sibelius, to realize that they are in for a warm and poignant view of the music of Sibelius. Much of this composer’s output is based on Finnish tales and legends of epic proportions, and that influence can certainly be felt within the fabric of his Symphonies.

Nature also always makes its presence felt within these works, as in the pulsing rhythms evoking wind swept fields, recurring many times within the Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op. 52, a work dedicated to the great Granville Bantock, and sharing that composer’s bucolic, or rustic backdrops to music, with many hints of folklore influenced tunes within the score.

Two of this composer’s most typical and conventional symphonies therefore kick-off this new Naxos series of recordings of all the symphonies, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the kindred spirit direction of Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen . Readings both warm and expressive, with a sound to match!

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, December 2010

Performances of integrity that augur well for the remainder of this symphony cycle

Pietari Inkinen’s two previous Sibelius anthologies for Naxos (3/08, 2/09) were full of insight, and the same holds true for this first instalment in a new cycle of the symphonies (will it, I wonder, include Kullervo?). As before, the young Finn draws playing of infectious zeal from the NZSO (what an accomplished band they have become in recent years), and his cannily paced and scrupulously prepared readings have much in their favour: intelligence, tastefulness and honesty are the watchwords here.

The First Symphony enjoys refreshingly unmannered treatment—one feels in safe hands right from the word go (the dusky introduction’s exceptionally eloquent clarinet solo generates the right kind of tingling expectancy). I love the bite and fire these responsive artists bring to both the first movement’s development section and the Scherzo, and Inkinen gauges the mounting sense of crisis in the second half of the slow movement with acute skill (the swirling climax thunders magnificently). The finale, too, is negotiated with sure-footed aplomb, its at times heart-on-sleeve romanticism tempered with a restraint that may perhaps not be to everyone’s liking: the second subject’s B major sunburst towards the close is not as sensuous as it can be but has a supremely touching radiance none the less (and one notices that the strings’ marking is only forte after all).

The Third is even finer. In the bracing opening Allegro moderato, how perceptively Inkinen handles that searching transition into the development, and if there’s the odd detail that goes astray (as the recapitulation heaves into view, the ff bassoons at three before fig 10 or 5’34” don’t quite register as they should), there’s much to admire in the keen vigour, purposefulness and sensitivity of his conception. The twilit slow movement (rooted in the remote tonality of G sharp minor) is as wistfully atmospheric and (in the central section) delicately capricious as one could wish, while the endlessly absorbing scherzo-cum-finale combines muscular grip and rhythmic snap to especially pleasing effect. Although Sir Colin Davis’s sublime 1976 Boston SO account (Philips, 8/77R) remains my interpretative touchstone (it ha an articulate majesty, humanity and wisdom that never fail to nourish and inspire), no one investing in this fresh-faced newcomer is likely to come away feeling short-changed. This is a most persuasive start to Inkinen’s cycle, with outstandingly vivid sound a further bonus. I look forward to future volumes., November 2010

Jean Sibelius in Finland, Carl Nielsen in Denmark, Johan Halvorsen and Ole Bull in Norway—among them, they created some of Scandinavia’s grandest and most impressive Romantic and post-Romantic music, for all that Halvorsen and Bull remain much less known than their contemporaries. Pietari Inkinen clearly has a strong affinity for Sibelius and a real understanding of the composer’s symphonic progress. Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 is as Romantic as they come, with grand, sweeping themes redolent of Scandinavia but ultimately subsumed within a structure entirely recognizable as dating to the days of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra does not have quite the warmth and heft in the strings that this symphony ideally requires, but it makes up for that with precision in the details of the work that highlights the skill Sibelius already brought to orchestration in this symphony. Inkinen in fact relies on details—a pizzicato here, a touch of the harp there (the latter being especially effective in the third movement)—to give this performance its very high quality. Yet he brings grand sweep to the work as well, especially in the fantasia-like finale. It is an altogether winning performance—and contrasts strongly with Inkinen’s equally effective reading of Symphony No. 3. This three-movement work shows considerably more of Sibelius’ mature style, including unusual harmonies and odd key choices (the central movement is in G-sharp minor). Striding rhythms, fragmented textures, tight organization, and a difficult-to-pin-down formal structure are characteristics of this symphony, which Inkinen allows to unfold naturally through well-chosen tempos and, again, careful attention to details of orchestration. Shorter than his first symphony and more difficult to grasp, Sibelius’ Third here comes across here as something of a woodland idyll, sometimes darkly atmospheric and sometimes brightly triumphant. Inkinen is particularly effective in showing this as a symphony of considerable contrasts, delicate in some parts and broadly expansive in others.

Robert Layton
International Record Review, November 2010

The New Zealand players have expertise, good ensemble and enthusiasm. In short, they are dedicated, thoughtful readings and I soon forgot that I was listening to them for review, and found myself just listening for pleasure.

Mike D. Brownell, November 2010

The first in a new Naxos series, this disc features newly (as of 2008) appointed music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Pietari Inkinen, in what will hopefully be a complete survey of the Sibelius Symphonies. New Zealand is not likely the location that most listeners might consider when seeking recordings of Finnish music, but Finnish-born Inkinen elevates his orchestra to a level of consistency, depth, and power that few orchestras—Finish or otherwise—have achieved in recording these symphonies. Volume One begins with the First Symphony, likely one of Sibelius’ two most frequently performed symphonies. Every section of the orchestra produces a similarly cohesive, balanced sound, a flawless technical execution, and vibrant, accurate articulations. When combined as a whole, the First Symphony is treated to a level of exuberance, intensity, drive seldom heard. Even in the most densely-scored, forte passages, Inkinen maintains meticulous control over dynamics, allowing every line to be clearly heard. The same focus and insight is brought to the less common Third Symphony, where Inkinen again finesses every phrase and fills the performance with nuance and careful attention to detail. If this first installment is a sign of things to come, listeners will find themselves at the beginning of a must-have survey of these great, lush Romantic Symphonies. Naxos’ sound is rich and vibrant, further enhancing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s already stunning sound quality.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, November 2010

I know it’s on a budget label, by a conductor you’ve probably never heard of and an orchestra that’s about as far toward the end of the earth as you can get. But really, this Naxos offering of Sibelius Symphonies by Finnish-born conductor Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is something special. These recordings capture the sheer excitement, the poetry, the enchantment, the love of nature, and the bold instrumental timbres of The Sibelius we know and love. Listening to these performances was like falling in love with Sibelius all over again (And believe me, I’m a Sibelius buff going back a long time!)

There is an anecdote about a conversation between Mahler and Sibelius in which the Austrian composer expressed his view that the symphony must be like the world itself and “embrace everything,” and the latter retorted “No,” that he prized the severity and inner logic of the form! This organic mode of growth that Sibelius favored is, in fact, one of his most basic characteristics. We find it early in his Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39, where great musical structures grow from very small kernels and familiar material from the opening movement is heard in bold new guises in the finale. When a phrase with a striking rhythmic figure is repeated, as it is at the end of the long, poignant clarinet solo at the very beginning of the symphony, that figure itself is sure to become important, as it does in the second subject that follows. Inkinen knows his Sibelius well, pacing his reading superbly to accommodate the abrupt rhythmic gestures in the opening movement, the lightening way the mood changes in the middle of the slow movement, leading to a series of stunning climaxes, and the brilliant way the contrasted Lento section lightens up the scampering woodwind fugato in the Scherzo. Inkinen builds the fantasia-like finale through stages of increasing excitement with sensational participation by the brass, lower strings and percussion, until the orchestra seems to be in a glorious full gallop, just before the composer ends things enigmatically with two simple chords dying away quietly on plucked E strings.

The performance of Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Op. 52 is simply the most convincing and engaging I have ever heard of this charming but underrated symphony. Perhaps it is too easy to take the opening Allegro movement for granted because of its classical proportions and the seemingly guileless way it sallies forth and takes the listener a willing prisoner with its highly rhythmical melody in the cellos and basses, soon followed by a lilting, folksy flute and a merry horn call over brushlike, burnished strings that all seem to invite us to a day in the country. The geniality is only momentarily troubled by a hushed and somewhat discordant scale in contrary motion in the first-movement exposition (Is this a kind of “tragic relief” amid all the abundant happiness?) But no matter, the symphony’s prevailing mood is a happy one, as affirmed by the gently lilting woodwind melody over pizzicati in the slow movement, succeeded though it is by more urgent commentary from the strings later on. The finale, marked Moderato – Allegro, concludes triumphantly with a rush of string figures and woodwind scales and a stunning brass choir overcoming what initially had seemed, as Sibelius himself termed it, “the crystallization of chaos.”

The recordings of these two symphonies, made in the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand in March 2009 by producer & engineer Tim Handley, a name with whom we’ve long been familiar in the recording industry, are so beautiful I don’t hesitate to term them award-class. Here the rich timbres of every family of the orchestra shine forth in perfectly natural soundstage perspective. Listen to the harp in both recordings, but particularly that of Symphony 1, and you will understand as never before the essential role it plays in sounding and defining those “pedal notes of nature” that Sibelius loved.

David Hurwitz, October 2010

This performance of the Third Symphony is as fine as any yet recorded. Conductor Pietari Inkinen understands that the work lives or dies on characterful string playing: clear rhythmic ostinatos, meaningful phrasing, and tempos that let the players articulate all of the detail that Sibelius wrote into the part. That’s exactly what we get. The first movement has lift, without undue haste. The reappearance of the second subject in the recapitulation is remarkably intense, the coda solemn but not dragging.

The central slow movement is perfectly paced, exactly midway between an Andante and a scherzo. The string pizzicatos are particularly well-balanced, the woodwind contributions consistently attractive. Best of all, the finale never threatens to turn anti-climactic. Inkinen judges the final accelerando with natural, unaffected mastery. He makes the music sound as though it’s playing itself, which is exactly as it should be.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

Pietari Inkinen, whose Sibelius recordings have been acclaimed by critics around the world, now embarks on a new symphony cycle. From the opening pages of the First, it is clear that this will not be a bland reproduction of the printed page, the opening movement giving uncommon stress to the composer’s tempo changes. He brings an high degree of drama to the slow second movement, pointing details by shifting the respective weight of instruments. Then lingering lovingly over the closing moments, he moves into a steady tempo for the scherzo where inherent ruggedness tends to be smoothed down. Much of the music’s fury is saved for his finale, some tempos taking me by surprise, but I like his big final peroration. The Third symphony is motoring from the first note, the whole of the opening allegro moderato shaped towards the big horn theme that eventually erupts. Inkinen loves the woodwind, pointing to them as often as is seemly throughout the first two movements. The finale has that craggy atmosphere required, growing to a monumental close as the violins dig deep into their strings to drive the work forward. Throughout the playing is very good and the performances well prepared, the brass round and sonorous, and the string intonation impeccable. It is interesting to compare the much acclaimed earlier Naxos cycle from the Iceland Symphony where you tangibly shiver as Finland’s frozen north is revealed with the wind whistling through it. The temperature is a few degrees warmer in New Zealand and winds are more of a fresh welcoming breeze. You would ideally need both to give you the whole picture. The new release needs a high volume setting, and more timpani impact would have been welcome. Otherwise the new recording is very well detailed.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group