Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

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, September 2011

Naxos isn’t wasting any time in issuing Pietari Inkinen’s Sibelius symphony cycle; the previous volume, containing the Fourth and Fifth, was released only a few months ago and reviewed in Fanfare 34:6. Only the Sixth and Seventh now remain to be issued.

This account of the Second, the most popular of Sibelius’s symphonies, was actually recorded at the same October 2008 sessions as the Fifth. In many ways, this is the strongest performance yet in this series. The opening movement sets the tone: Tempos are well judged, the strings make an impressively full sound, and the wind solos are uniformly lovely. The occasional interpretive missteps that Inkinen has made in earlier releases are almost entirely avoided here; only the transition from the scherzo to the Finale seems too slow. Producer/engineer Tim Handley again obtains lovely sound in Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre. There’s a huge amount of top-notch competition for recordings of this symphony, from the early stereo Ormandy (Sony) and Monteux (Decca) versions to the more recent ones by Blomstedt (Decca) and Segerstam (Ondine), but if you’re looking for a budget-priced, single-disc version of the Second, Inkinen is unlikely to disappoint.

The ebullient Karelia Suite receives a generally attractive reading, although I find the opening Intermezzo and concluding Alla marcia a bit flat-footed—my most frequent criticism of Inkinen’s Sibelius. Still, this disc represents a high point in this Sibelius cycle, and another impressive achievement for the New Zealand Symphony.

John P McKelvey
American Record Guide, September 2011

This is a thoroughly good performance of Sibelius 2 and Karelia. In tempos and interpretive gestures it is flawless. The orchestra is excellent. Not a note, a turn of phrase, or any detail of execution is out of place. It is cold but not excessively so, a thin current of warmth emerging occasionally. The Naxos sound is clear, cool, and full of detail. It is well balanced, not grossly distorted or too fiercely straight. If you go for it you’ll be pleased…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Andrew Mellor
Classic FM, July 2011

High playing standards, a firm grasp of the music’s architecture and emotional content, and a budget price: there are few complaints here

Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio, June 2011

For a small country, Finland has produced an inordinate number of conductors with international careers: Salonen, Vanska, Saraste, and now Pietari Inkinen. His latest disc is part of his ongoing Sibelius cycle, and features the sweeping Symphony No. 2.

Recently, my college-aged son took his roommates to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to hear Osmo Vanska conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2. He was totally jazzed about what he heard and was looking for a recording of that symphony. In my stack of new releases I just happened to have one featuring that famous work with a young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkinen leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. This is the third volume in their new series featuring all of the symphonies by Finland’s number-one son.

Pietari Inkinen was four years old when he began playing violin. At age 14 he got his first shot at conducting and was hooked. He was just 28 years old when he took the helm of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2008. Inkinen is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo and he still plays violin with the Inkinen Trio. As an instrumentalist Inkinen creates an inviting, collaborative atmosphere with his musicians, giving them the freedom they need to fully express the music. The end result is a delightful sense of spontaneity and excitement throughout this recording. The first movement pulsates at an easy-going, flexible pace. The strings always start just after the beat, whereas the melody in the wind section starts squarely on the beat. The silent downbeats become a distinctive feature for this opening movement.

Sibelius and his family were sent to Italy on sabbatical by a wealthy Baron who was a fan of the composer’s music. During his time in Italy Sibelius was able to compose to his heart’s content and immediately his second symphony began to form in his mind. “I am completely a man of imagination,” Sibelius wrote. He worked on his second symphony while absorbing the gorgeous horizon along the blue, sunny Mediterranean. He completed the symphony shortly after returning to Finland in March of 1902, and immediately premiered this fresh-sounding masterpiece, which effectively expressed the misty northern landscape of his homeland. A timpani roll sets the scene for the second movement, and we hear its rumble each time the bassoon melody returns. This second movement has a mysterious tone as the harsh winds whirl throughout this movement. The anticipation builds as Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra soar to the luscious transition that seamlessly unites the third movement and the heroic finale. You can almost picture a hero and heroine triumphantly falling into one another’s arms while the sun sets behind them during the sweeping romantic melody in the finale.

After the fully-satisfying Second Symphony Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra serve up one final tantalizing morsel, the Karelia Suite. These three movements were part of a theatrical production about Finnish history and legends produced at Helsinki University in 1893. While I like the bright, crisp quality of the orchestra’s sound, the tempo throughout this suite is a bit mechanical.

Many great conductors have already recorded full cycles of Sibelius’s seven symphonies and it appears Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will find a place among them. Pietari Inkinen is ensuring that Finland’s next generation of conductors carry on the legacy of their country’s best-loved composer. With his orchestra he shapes deep, rich colors and textures forming a savory romantic sound.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, June 2011

This is a fairly brisk Sibelius Second, and the overall mood of the work is brighter than in many other accounts. While this symphony is ultimately a triumphant one, there are many dark moments: parts of the first movement, most of the second and passages of struggle in the finale associated with the heroic alternate theme. In this recording conductor Pietari Inkinen (b. 1980), music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra since 2008, tamps down the darker elements in the symphony and smoothes off some of the jagged edges as well. Even the epic heroism comes across with less power: the big brass proclamations in the second movement are less assertive than is usual and the glorious main theme in the finale is stately and warm, rather than heroic and defiant.

From this description, you might think the performance is tame and bland, but it isn’t: while Inkinen brightens the symphony’s Romanticism and epic character, he often works up tension in his leaner textures and more driven pacing to impart a sense of urgency, making Sibelius sound far less finicky, far less meticulous than in so many other performances. While some successful Sibelius conductors, like Sir Colin Davis, convey more of an epic quality, more angst, they are not necessarily more convincing in this symphony. I’m sorry I missed the first two volumes in Inkinen’s Sibelius series (containing Symphonies 1, 3, 4 and 5) because, if I can judge from this performance, they would certainly have been worthy acquisitions, not least because the orchestra plays with plenty of spirit here, even if there are a few imprecisions.

The chipper Karelia Suite gets an appropriately light treatment, though here tempos tend to be on the moderate side. Once again the orchestra plays with commitment. In sum, this third entry in Inkinen’s Sibelius cycle must be given a strong recommendation.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, June 2011

Inkinen’s Sibelius cycle continues with a Second that bears up well

Few premieres prove to be truly national events but that of Sibelius’s Second Symphony in 1902, given amid burgeoning Finnish nationalism and discontent with Tsarist rule, was undeniably one—a work that still, for all its familiarity, lives up to its hype. Yet Sibelius did not intend to compose a political piece (darker literary and personal shadows lie behind much of the score) which merely reflected the charged atmosphere of the time. The Second’s legacy is wholly musical.

Inkinen takes a holistic approach to the work, avoiding playing overtly to the gallery—even in the grandiose final hymn—while being alive to the drama in each movement. His account generates great momentum although the pace is not that fast: at 44’16” Inkinen may outstrip Davis yet is nearly two minutes behind Järvi, so tempo is not the whole story here. In any case, neither holds a candle to Kajanus, who took under 39’ in 1930 (Finlandia). The New Zealanders give a fine account of the works and themselves, and if they do not surpass any of the very personally selected rival versions above (the Gothenburgers have more fire, the LSO and Philharmonia more finesse), their particular orchestral blend and Inkinen’s fine direction make this, at the price, keenly competitive.

The symphony is followed by a somewhat relaxed Karelia Suite, feeling exactly right following the intensity of No 2. Again, tempi are deceptive, the newcomer not appreciably different to Järvi or the beautifully played Ashkenazy (originally paired with No 1). The orchestra certainly sound as if they enjoyed themselves and so should you in their company., April 2011

The ongoing Sibelius cycle by Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is an exceptionally fine one, and the Second gets as thoughtful and well-planned a reading as did the earlier releases (Nos. 1 and 3 on one CD, Nos. 4 and 5 on another). No. 2 builds naturally and breathes deeply in a reading that is expansive without being slow, monumental without being overdone, and very well integrated—the movements seem a natural part of the whole, which is by no means always the case in performances of this symphony, which often sounds fragmented because it contains music of so many different characters. Inkinen also offers a lovely recording of the popular Karelia Suite, with a suitably poetic Ballade and a really rousing final Alla Marcia. Inkinen is certainly a Sibelius conductor of the first rank.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

The excellence of this disc comes as a very pleasant surprise. After a tepid First Symphony it seemed like Inkinen was a conductor more comfortable with Sibelius’ more classically restrained, late style. What’s more, it’s probably fair to say that the Second Symphony is the weak point in many complete cycles, partly because it has benefited from numerous superb singleton performances, and so the competition is so much stronger than it is for, say, Symphony No. 6. That Inkinen’s performance more than holds its own is therefore no mean achievement.

The first thing this interpretation has going for it is a wonderful flexibility of pulse. Particularly in the second movement and finale, Inkinen knows exactly when to push forward and when to relax. The result has excitement, spontaneity, and in the finale, no dead spots. Next, there is the exceptional care he takes over the string playing, energizing the merely accompanimental passages with characterful articulation, and in the scherzo giving shape and point to the music’s general buzz of activity. With unusually transparent textures throughout, the woodwinds have no problem making their presence felt, and the brass acquit themselves honorably in the tuttis. As usual with this orchestra, the timpani lack a certain presence, but not terribly. The result is an interpretation both poised and passionate.

The Karelia Suite is also notable. Inkinen’s tempos in the outer movements are relatively slow (which I personally like), but this only permits an unusual degree of detailing and a sharpness of articulation that never actually sounds sluggish. As already suggested, the acoustics of this venue aren’t the best, but they certainly don’t get in Inkinen’s way, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the engineering as such. Given that Inkinen has the entire orchestra playing at a very high level of ensemble precision, this is definitely one of the better Second Symphonies of recent days.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

The sunniest of Sibelius’s Seven Symphonies is well suited to the New Zealand orchestra and their young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkinen.  My allegiance to the previous Naxos cycle from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Petri Sakari has been tested, and I have often come down in favour of Sakari, but here the superior playing of the New Zealanders has won the day by a sizeable margin. They have a firmer bottom end to the orchestra, a major prerequisite here, and if the Iceland trumpet team have more bite, the rounded tone of this new recording is very apt. Not that I warm to Inkinen’s gear change from the third to the fourth movement which is clumsy, but his tempos elsewhere are well chosen, the scherzo unhurried but still lively. Above all Inkinen sees movements as a whole and never gets drawn into fatuous pointing of detail, while he balances the importance the national elements that Sibelius was keen to exploit when the work was first composed. Where he does score over Sakari is in his account of Karalia, the movements well paced, the final march avoiding the jazzy jauntiness which it often suffers. The recording has certainly helped the lower strings in the symphony, and throughout it is the mellow end of the spectrum that is to the fore. The catalogue is bursting with top recommended versions of the symphony, this one among the best.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group