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]
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]
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
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.
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