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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
rec. Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, 3 June 2003. DDD
ONDINE ODE 1035-2 [63:57]

This isnít a new release but Iíve been given the opportunity to audition Segerstamís coupling of the Third and Fifth, my first experience of his conducting of the Sibelius symphonies. My impressions are generally affirmatory.

The Third seems to me the superior performance. His control of tempo relations in the first movement especially is first class and he inspires the Helsinki Philharmonic to give of their very considerable best. Wind playing is of a distinguished standard. Just listen out at 4:40 in the first movement for the kind of expressive personalisation with which they present the music. Throughout he brings a galvanising sense of rhythmic freedom to bear Ė though not one that in any way steps beyond musical bounds. The noble peroration at 9:35 is just one moment among many when one feels the life force of Segerstamís conducting. Nor does he stint on finesse; the central movement is notable for it with some beautifully shaped lines at a good tempo. Furthermore the sectional balance between choirs is perfectly maintained and the important theatricality of the string/wind dialogues no less so. The finale is just as good and caps an impressive addition to the catalogues.

The Fifth opens powerfully, Segerstam taking the first movement at roughly the same tempo adopted by Colin Davis in his LSO Live recording. The recording is felicitous in exposing a great deal of the kind of detail often blurred in other recordings. So some of the inner writing becomes clarified; the more desolate wind lines emerge with decisive drama. He brings a kaleidoscopic sense of power, brooding and relaxing lightness as well. With the slow movement we find him again balancing with care and experience the contrasting characters embedded in the music. And so too in the finale, again well-paced and exuding strength. Perversely however he seeks a solution to the supposedly problematic ending by holding back the tempo very slightly and then making a furious accelerando to the final bars. The last two chords are slightly beefed up as well. This wonít find universal favour and materially limited my appreciation of his success elsewhere.

Nevertheless these are splendidly played and recorded performances and the contentious ending to the Fifth aside worthy additions to the Sibelius catalogues.

Jonathan Woolf


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