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Sibelius: Symphonies 1 & 4 - Osmo Vänskä

Sibelius: Symphonies 1 & 4 - Osmo Vänskä

BIS  BIS-1996 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


SIBELIUS, Johan (Jean) Christian Julius (1865–1957)
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39 (Breitkopf & Härtel)
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op. 63 (Breitkopf & Härtel)

Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä (conductor)


The seven Sibelius symphonies span a quarter of a century in all (1899–1924) and encompass a complete world. Were one to choose two that reveal the furthermost poles of his symphonic art, they would be the two recorded here, the First and Fourth; the one an essay in the received tradition, the other a work so original and inward-looking as to open up an entirely new world, and inconceivable from the vantage point of the 1890s.

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24/96
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Review by Graham Williams - April 30, 2013

Osmo Vänskä's reputation as arguably the foremost living interpreter of Sibelius will be further enhanced by this second volume of his fine Sibelius Symphony cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra.
The earlier release Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 5 - Osmo Vänskä highlighted the conductor's quite individual approach to these works, born of long familiarity with them.

Vänskä delivers lithe, fast moving accounts of each of the 1st Symphony's four movements in which clear lines and crisp articulation are paramount. One feels here that Sibelius has already found his true voice and the composer's oft quoted debt to Tchaikovsky has never appeared less justified. One has to wait for the appearance of the 'big tune' in the finale for Vänskä to allow himself any degree of expected romantic indulgence. Though it will not appeal to all tastes Vänskä's unusually bracing and forthright account of this popular symphony I found to be most persuasive.

The austere 4th Symphony receives a reading of penetrating intensity, yet surprisingly Vänskä manages to bring a degree of warmth even to the icy bleakness of the first movement. No doubt this is aided by wonderfully focussed orchestral playing from the Minnesota Orchestra and the eloquent cello solos from Anthony Ross. The dark mood of the restless scherzo is marvellously realised, both thanks to the quicksilver response Vänskä elicits from his players and the airy BIS recording.

Vänskä allows each of the fragmentary wind episodes that open the slow movement to breathe naturally as a sense of utter desolation is established. The noble main theme is gradually revealed by the cellos over a shimmering accompaniment on upper strings, its eventual statement by the full orchestra leading to the movement's mysterious ending. All this unfolds with a profound logic in Vänskä's performance and his searching account of the finale is equally compelling.

The sound that BIS have achieved on their 5.0 96kHz/24 bit recording in Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis (May/June 2012) is exceptionally crisp and clear with a very wide spread and the instrumental positioning within the orchestra is clearly defined. The strings are lean sounding and, though some might feel that the violins lack a little warmth, in my view this is entirely in keeping with Vanska's readings of these symphonies.

Both these performances must surely take their place amongst the very finest available on disc.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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