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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.3 in C major, op.52 (1907) [29:57]
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, op.82 (1919) [33:49]
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Recorded at the Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, 3 June 2003
ONDINE ODE 1035-2 [63:57]


A useful coupling this, for, though Sibeliusís great 5th is one of the most recorded symphonies of the 20th century, the 3rd has been much less fortunate, probably because of its relatively small stature and midway position in Sibeliusí output. It can also seem like a lightweight piece, though this is very misleading, as in many ways it holds the key to the great works that were to follow.

There is a great deal to enjoy and commend in these Sibelius performances from Segerstam and the fine Helsinki Philharmonic. The conductor certainly takes no prisoners, and has a refreshingly personal approach to the scores. His tempi are chosen with great care, and he throws new light on some passages, such as the remarkable fragmented development of the finale of Symphony no.3, or the bridge which joins the two parts of the first movement of the 5th.

Nevertheless, I ultimately found the disc a disappointment. Though certain movements work well, Segerstam overplays the contrasts, highlights instrumentation too much, and makes at least one disastrous misjudgement. This is at the final climax of the 5th, where, as the crux is reached, he throws away all his good approach work by massively overdoing the slight acceleration that Sibelius asks for (this is around 9:12 on track 6). Such a pity; a similar tendency to drive the music forward urgently is felt at the end of the 3rd, but is there held in check, which I found bracing.

The orchestra plays well, though for me Segerstamís voicing of the textures is overly bright, with flutes and trumpets often simply too loud. It is vital in this music not to lose that understated, reserved quality that characterises the composer. Itís very possible that all of this arises from Segerstamís earnest desire to Ďsellí the music to listeners who are less familiar with Sibelius; if so, that is admirable but misguided, for Sibelius can speak for himself with unique power.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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