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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

William Hedley
MusicWeb International, January 2012

very satisfying in its own right. The conductor really has the measure of the work, and the orchestra plays with just the right balance of weight and transparency…this performance will serve perfectly well. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, December 2011

…I’m glad for Inkinen and New Zealand: they at last seem to have returned to the consistent quality that marked their Scènes historiques, Night Ride and Sunrise, and Valse triste. This disc is, uniquely in the symphony series, an unqualified keeper, and let’s hope the tone poems are too. © 2011 MusicWeb International Read complete review

James Manheim, December 2011

The series of Sibelius symphonies from Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen has been consistently worthwhile, with fresh readings from the conductor and fine efforts from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The good news continues with this pairing of the final two symphonies… © 2011 Read complete review

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, December 2011

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… 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…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.

The Seventh Symphony is given perhaps an even better performance.

There have been scores of fine recordings of Finlandia too, probably Sibelius’ most popular work. This entry by Inkinen is also excellent. …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.

In sum, this new disc is a winner. © 2011 Classical Net Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, November 2011

A lot of nonsense has been written about Sibelius’ last two Symphonies, mostly describing them as “serene, enigmatic” expressions of the last years of his creative life. It is easy for many readers to accept this facile judgment, since we seldom have the chance to hear Symphonies 6 and 7 in concert. These fresh, no-nonsense performances by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under its young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen may help to clear the air.

As I hear it in the present recording by Inkinen and the NZSO, there is a curious lack of the human element here. Instead, we have a luminous quality, as of a Nordic forest in spring, bathed in the sunlight of the northern regions. My own impression is that this is a portrait of the natural world itself in all its changes, as it existed before the rise of man and will exist again after the human race has done itself in.

The human element, on the other hand—passionate, yearning, seething with desire and regret—does inform the Seventh Symphony of 1924.

…there’s a nice, sturdy account of the composer’s ever-popular Finlandia at the end of the present program. Read complete review, October 2011

The final CD in the Sibelius cycle by Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is every bit as good as the earlier ones, with Inkinen extracting very fine and surprisingly idiomatic playing from the orchestra and offering interpretations filled with touches of elegance. …Inkinen has a fine sense of Sibelius’ coloristic innovations, which combine with the constant tempo changes… And the CD concludes with Sibelius’ ever-popular Finlandia, given a stirring rendition filled with grandeur and a sense of wide scale and great triumphalism. This is an excellent completion of a Sibelius cycle that has been, from first to last, a joy to hear.

David Hurwitz, September 2011

Like many conductors these days, Pietari Inkinen has a much stronger affinity for the rarified textures and atmosphere of late Sibelius than he shows for the early, romantic works. His performances of the Sixth and Seventh symphonies accordingly are quite distinctive and masterly, but they won’t be to all tastes. Inkinen’s approach is extremely chamber-like, somewhat in the style of Berglund, but not by any means lightweight. Indeed, his tempos are often deliberate, but he always maintains the music’s flow—and most importantly, he makes music where many other performances offer little more than scurrying and scraping. I’m thinking particularly of the central development section of the Sixth symphony’s first movement, and the opening minutes of the Seventh, where Inkinen clarifies the music’s motivic inter-relatedness as have few others.

Nor is he invariably slow. The Seventh’s central, pastoral interlude is swift and fresh, and despite his care with phrasing and string articulation, Inkinen never lets the music sound mannered. But all of this clarity comes at a price. The music’s climaxes never bite the way that they can (and should). Timpani and trombones, sparingly used as they often are, shouldn’t sound this tame. This being one of the better-sounding recordings in this series (though certainly not demonstration quality), it’s clear that this is Inkinen’s choice, and while perfectly valid, it precludes my giving this disc a highest recommendation.

Finlandia is no bonus: this is a performance totally lacking in rugged power, however nicely detailed it may be. It hardly rises above mezzo-forte. Still, for the value of Inkinen’s insights into the symphonies, I do recommend them to Sibelius fans. You will hear things here that you have never heard before, and be grateful for the experience.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2011

With this disc Naxos now have in their catalogue two different and equally desirable Sibelius symphony cycles. It maybe two simplistic to say that the vista of the much experienced Sibelius conductor, Petri Sakari, and the Iceland Symphony is rugged, windswept, often desolate, and with a few rough edges in the performance. By comparison the young Pietari Inkinen and his New Zealanders smooth down the textures, add warmth and play with that smooth eloquence we have come to expect from the orchestra. From Sakari the present symphony coupling was the most critically acclaimed of his cycle, as the Naxos catalogue shows. The Sixth, one of Sibelius’s most problematic, finds Inkinen successful avoiding the episodic nature inherent in the score. It has involved some subtle manipulation of tempos, the persistent chattering rhythm at the heart of the first movement shedding the cold rigidity we have become used to, while the forward balance of the woodwind, here, and elsewhere, offer-up some unexpected colours. I also enjoy his unhurried scherzo that shows restraint in dynamic extremes. If that symphony is continuous in concept, the Seventh is in one long movement divided internally into sections of different tempos. With Inkinen you feel those divisions more than Sakari, though the smoothness of the New Zealand strings is much to be admired. A sombre opening to Finlandia eventually explodes into a fiery finale, with the strings matching the brass at full power. The sound engineering throughout this new series has been very good, and being greedy I would want both cycles in my collection.

Classic FM

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra perform Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos 6 & 7 and Finlandia with a delicate luminosity

…there’s delicacy and subtlety in the textures and solos and impressive warmth in the slow-burn orchestral crescendos. A solemn Finlandia comes as the crowning glory…

…you can hardly go wrong with this Sibelius cycle—it’s both the perfect introduction and a worthy addition for collectors. Bravo Naxos! © Classic FM

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