Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
Sound Samples & Downloads

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63[36:20]
Symphony No. 5 in E flat, Op. 82 [32:48]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
rec. 16-18 October 2008 (No 5) and 21-23 September 2009 (No 4), Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand
NAXOS 8.572227 [69:44]

Experience Classicsonline

Pietari Inkinen’s Sibelius cycle continues to frustrate. His is the third set of Jean Sibelius’ symphonies to be released by Naxos, third in chronology and, so far, in quality as well. The first volume featured an impressive if undistinguished Third Symphony and a flabby, energy-less First. The present volume is just as inconsistent, for its Fourth is at times gripping but others curiously slack, and the Fifth is a gangly, awkward interpretation which feels askew and commits an unpardonable sin.
The Fourth Symphony is probably the toughest to crack in the Sibelius canon, or perhaps I say that because I’ve only warmed to it in the past twelve months. Too long I’d been put off by the nihilism, the lack of a foothold to use while ascending its bleak face. Two comparatively swift accounts, by Berglund with the Helsinki Philharmonic and Ashkenazy with the Philharmonia, provided an easier introduction to this symphony’s sound-world.
Inkinen’s account is a curious one. The opening bars are all bassoons, no cellos or basses; the cello solo afterward, though, is absolutely fantastic. One thing that has been consistently outstanding in this series has been the solo work of members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The remainder of the first movement actually goes extremely well; it’s the best performance on the disc, a dramatic arc of fierce intensity and moments of great beauty.
Then comes trouble. The scherzo brings a total lack of bite or attack in the string section, as if they are playing a Tchaikovsky ballet, and things start to fall apart from that point. For entries of the winds and brass Inkinen brings the tempo to a standstill, not that the scherzo was particularly “molto vivace” to start with. Clearly Inkinen intended the darkness of the second half to come as a surprise, but this is a miscalculation: it sounds tacked on! The only thing that works is the startling fade-out at the end.
The slow movement is clinical, the phrases disjointed in a way which would have really put me off when I didn’t appreciate this symphony. In some conductors’ hands this largo sounds like one massive tragic arc; in others it sounds like a series of unrelated thoughts jotted on a pad. Inkinen is closer to the latter than the former. The finale slipped in quietly with what I thought was intelligent, discreet subtlety, until it turned out that nearly the entire movement would be played with that same quiet sensitivity, which works well in some episodes and badly in others. The sad, lilting second subject around 2:45 is heartbreaking, but the engineers have, through microphone misplacement, made other portions sound like a glockenspiel concerto.
The Fifth, as I said, is awkward. It feels like a teenage boy who is a full head taller than his classmates and not yet sure how to use his bulk. What do I mean? The first movement moves strangely, clumsily, across its landscape; some moments are fast when they should be slow (2:38, 3:50), or slow when they should be fast (12:48-13:13); heroic when they should be cowed (7:30-8:05), or tender when they should be heroic (the chord at 4:51, the strings after 10:10). Where are the timpani and brass at the big transition point? Why is the coda so unexciting? Actually, I can answer that: timid horns at 13:12, lack of presence for the timpani, and the fact that the build-up beginning around 12:00 is unusually dull. The slow movement, at 9:39, feels almost like a nocturne, still and solemn: Inkinen is actually slower than Celibidache (9:21) here, let alone Davis/LSO (8:08) or Vänskä (8:47). The nocturnal feel really works, though it forces the oboist into a solo (after 8:00) that sounds forced.
In the finale, something quite shocking happens: while delivering the glorious “swan hymn”, the French horns sound ugly. I didn’t think it possible! But they have a nasty bite, a muted harshness, which boggles the mind. Intonation is suspect and the phrasing, with certain notes “pointed” and the graceful flow of the notes made clunky and fitful, is grating to the ears. Then the trumpets cut in too quickly at 6:30 and the final orchestral build-up fails to bring euphoria or a sense of entry into the heavens. Add to this the ponderous first movement, the poorly-timed final chords (too, too fast!), and slightly charmless recorded sound. Besides the timpani and glockenspiel complaints, it lacks the depth or vividness of Naxos recordings from Warsaw, Scotland, Seattle, and Liverpool.
Even in the Naxos catalogue there are superior alternatives. Adrian Leaper and the Slovak Philharmonic have turned in a surprisingly good Sibelius Fifth; the first movement is rather fast for my taste, but in the finale the Slovak horns overcome their traditional shyness and make some beautiful sounds. Better still is Petri Sakari’s recording with the Iceland Symphony, which, once you turn the volume up, is outstanding. It’s one of my top five choices for the Fifth, in fact, alongside names as illustrious as Celibidache, Berglund (EMI), and Vänskä - though behind the titanic, euphoric performance by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. The only blemish on Sakari’s account is a strange clicking sound in the finale which might be a chair squeaking but is terribly distracting and strikes at exactly the wrong moments.
Casting the net more broadly, there are far too many great recordings of these symphonies to patronize these. In the Fourth I have a special affection for Ashkenazy, but Berglund is also excellent, and Bernstein’s (NY/Sony) brings a very special touch of pathos to the final bars - though Lenny did add church bells to the finale for good measure. The Fifth Symphony is an incredibly difficult work to conduct well, but Vänskä’s reading is near-perfect technically, Bernstein’s the most satisfying emotionally, and Sakari a satisfying option at Naxos price.
All that remains to be asked is: how did Pietari Inkinen bring about such lively performances of Sibelius’ incidental theatre music (King Christian II, Scenes historiques, Kuolema) and follow them up with such overcooked recordings of the symphonies? Klaus Heymann has remarked that he only approved recording a new symphony cycle because the earlier discs were so good. The first problem was that Inkinen had previously recorded no top-drawer Sibelius, unless you count the Valse triste and Night Ride and Sunrise. The second problem was that much of this incidental music is in an old-fashioned romantic idiom, even Tchaikovskian at times, which is well-suited to a lush, low-energy approach. Anyone who conducts Valse triste with the same craggy, heroic sense of struggle they bring to Symphony No. 5 has a problem. Unfortunately, Pietari Inkinen conducts the Symphony No. 5 with the same laid-back, clarity-first prettiness he brings to Valse triste.
Brian Reinhart 

























































Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.