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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 3 in C Major op. 52 (1907) [27:41]
Symphony No. 6 in D Minor op. 104 (1923) [25:42]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Violin Concerto in D major (1931) [20:40]
Northern Sinfonia/Thomas Zehetmair (violin/director)
rec. 19-22 April 2007 (Stravinsky); 4-5 August 2007 (6); 20-21 September, 13 November, 2008, Hall One, The Sage, Gateshead. DDD
AVIE AV2150 [74:22]

Experience Classicsonline

Sibelius’s Third Symphony - dedicated to Granville Bantock - has never enjoyed the success of the first two. The classical mode of argument of the first movement, its restrained method of expression - certainly in comparison with the Second Symphony - speak of a distillation of thought to be continued in the Fourth.

The Northern Sinfonia has formed a strong bond with Thomas Zehetmair; their recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Schumann’s Fourth has been particularly well received. Their account of Sibelius 3 Third is intensely disciplined, which gives a real sense of ruggedness to the more energetic passages. I think specifically about the music around the five-minute mark of the first movement. The central - of only three movements - Andantino con moto is given a performance of the utmost affection. The sequence of variations feels entirely natural. It is in the quieter moments that one notices the excellence of the recording. The Producer and Engineer is Simon Fox-Gál. The sense of space and clarity are entirely noteworthy, carrying across the beautiful simplicity of the playing. The finale, which so perplexed early audiences, combines Scherzo with an ultimate reconciliation of earlier material from the symphony. There is a grit to the Northern Sinfonia’s reading that almost seems to speak of their determination to refute any perceived structural weaknesses here. It is in this movement, too, that they seek out the darkness in the music most.

Sibelius referred to his Sixth as “a draught of pure spring water”. Sir Colin Davis’s recent recordings of this work have confirmed his status as a foremost Sibelian, but there is certainly a place on the shelves for the Northern Sinfonia’s light, delicate, chamber reading. It’s an approach that pays particular dividends in the second movement, Allegro moderato. That is not to imply there is no gusto here - try the end of the third movement - but it is beauty and transparency that are to the fore. A wonderful testament to the talents of the Northern Sinfonia.

Finally, the Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which actually is sandwiched in between the two symphonies in the disc playing order. The acerbic opening certainly alerts us in no uncertain fashion to the fact that the territory has changed. The violin is very forward - the bassoons therefore, in particular, suffer. The passage that begins around 2:37 is interestingly rendered here, making more than usual allusion to the angular world of Agon over a quarter of a century later. In the final bars of the first movement the ritardando is overdone. It just sounds like someone has pulled the plug out and its running down.

I wish, too, that there was more of a sense of play at times - notably in parts of Aria I. The opening of the finale (“Capriccio”) is rather hectic, and there is an impression that ensemble is only just together. Directing the Stravinsky Violin Concerto is a brave act, certainly, and one that here just takes the edge off proceedings. That said, if Mutter (DG) remains my final preference here, Zehetmair’s version is well worth hearing and acts as a nice bonus to the main Sibelian fare.

Colin Clarke 

see also review by Rob Barnett


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