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Stravinsky: Violin Concerto; Sibelius: Symphonies No 3 & 6 / Zehetmair, Northern Sinfonia

Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2150   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Igor StravinskyJean Sibelius
Performer:  Thomas Zehetmair
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIBELIUS Symphonies: No. 3; No. 6. STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto Thomas Zehetmair (vn, cond); Northern Snf AVIE 2150 (74:14)

Fascinating to listen into the chamber music textures here, thanks to careful but close multi-miking. The basically clear but often too dry sound comes from the futuristic Sage at Gateshead in England, home of the Northern Sinfonia. It’s sonically impressive, without being at all natural. All three works are favorites of mine, Read more so the fresh, small-scale slant is welcome, after so many versions. I always want to hear these symphonies. It’s interesting to reconsider what their sound world might really be.

The Concerto I probably don’t hear enough, though Chung’s Decca recording defined it for me, and it still sounds great. I find Zehetmair too loud and insistent in the middle movements, almost hostile at times, which does not fit my notion of the work as a cousin to Lourié’s Concerto da camera. The Capriccio works best here, with far more wit, variety, orchestral interaction, and some impressive interpretative character, but without any pleasing tone. James North commends the Naxos/Frautschi version above all others (31:4), and I have not heard that.

I’ve heard most recordings of these Sibelius works though, and the Sixth is on my “Top 10 Pieces by Anyone” list. With these excellent small forces, Zehetmair can encourage some very nimble scurrying, as well as occasional vibratoless string playing and an easy exposure of inner instrumental lines. Actually Maazel did a similarly brisk job in Vienna in the 1960s with Three and Six, but I’ve never liked those Decca performances. Zehetmair has definite ideas on interpretation and on rubato, and it all sounds very much alive. Sometimes it’s hyper-alive, like the Schoenberg First Chamber Symphony. The Scherzo of the Sixth is very fast, a three-minute showpiece, and near the end of the Symphony I thought of the Tchaikovsky Serenade. I wasn’t moved, as I am with Karajan and others, but it’s very interesting to hear this piece without a big cushion of ethereal strings. Like it or not, no other recording whips up so much excitement in the finale.

The Sibelius Third you might expect to work better, given the supposed links to Busonian aesthetics. But to me it’s always sounded closer to the Kalevala than to Classicism. Zehetmair is different again, evoking “Valse triste” in a very warm, affectionate Andantino (which does not quite hold together). The ending of this Third lacks grandeur (nothing to do with the size of the orchestra), but the Allegro moderato makes it worth hearing for the confident Romanticism and for the clearer textures at the start. As Richard Kaplan says, Kletzki and Sanderling make this Symphony work, and I like Vänskä, but there’s still a vacancy for a big winner. Zehetmair tries a little too hard. The mythic, raw, and epic scale of the first movement coda eludes him, and the development section lacks confidence.

These are not chamber symphonies, but Sibelians should enjoy pretending they are for a time. To them (especially lovers of the Sixth) I’d recommend the disc, while also wanting to hear more Sibelius played this way, for example, the Fourth.

FANFARE: Paul Ingram
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Thomas Zehetmair (Violin)
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
Symphony no 3 in C major, Op. 52 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907; Finland 
Symphony no 6 in D minor, Op. 104 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1923; Finland 

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