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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
En saga, Op. 9 (1892 rev. 1902) [18:06]
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899 rev 1900) [8:10]
The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22 No. 2 (1895) [9:12]
The Oceanides, Op. 73 (1914) [9:47]
Valse triste, Op. 44 No. 1 (1903-4) [4:18]
King Christian II Suite, Op. 27 (1898) [24:47]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thomas Søndergård
rec. 2017/18, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under its Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård has previously released 2 CDs of Sibelius symphonies, which one assumes will eventually lead us to a complete cycle. This latest Linn release is a well-balanced selection of the composer’s tone poems and theatre music.

Søndergård starts his programme with a very chilling version of En Saga that offers superb orchestral clarity. I especially like the way the conductor occasionally pushes his foot down on the accelerator to introduce extra drive and momentum into the music. The recording is light at the bottom end (the bass drum is disappointingly feeble) and the horns are somewhat reticent which is something of a drawback. Other than that the recording is natural and pleasing but it doesn’t somehow have enough bloom and depth to take your breath away. Finlandia is both pompous and exhilarating at the same time but again the horns fail to ring out sufficiently. The Swan of Tuonela is beautifully played by Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer and her singing line is aided by the engineer’s decision to bring the cor anglais quite forward. This is a serene and touching performance.

The highlight of the disc is the performance of the elusive and mystical Oceanides, where the orchestral playing is outstandingly refined and full of tension. The woodwind players deserve special mention here and the apocalyptic climax towards the end of the work is overwhelming. There’s not much one can say about Valse Triste. It’s one of those pieces that virtually plays itself and it doesn’t disappoint here. The King Christian II suite to my ears is the best recorded piece on the CD. The strings are warmer and the horns sing out at last. This is graceful, unpretentious light music packed with memorable tunes. It’s almost the Sibelian equivalent to The Florida Suite by Delius. The Nocturne and Ballade top and tail the suite in rousing fashion. The Elegy and Musette have been recorded many times as stand-alone lollipops (Mackerras springs to mind) and the stunning Elegy is affectionately done without becoming cloying. At 75 minutes this is a well filled disc with excellent orchestral playing and a high quality recording that just falls short due to the minor reservations outlined above.

John Whitmore
Previous review: Rob Barnett


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