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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 / Inkinen, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Sibelius / Nzso / Inkinen
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572305   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIBELIUS Symphonies: No. 1; No. 3 Pietari Inkinen, cond; New Zealand SO NAXOS 8.572305 (70:04)

This is the third Sibelius CD by the New Zealand Symphony under its young Finnish music director, who assumed the post in 2008; it is also, according to the jewel-case blurb, the first installment in “a new Naxos series,” which almost certainly means a complete traversal of the Sibelius symphonies, the label’s third. Inkinen’s first two Sibelius programs for Naxos, composed of selections from the tone poems and Read more incidental music, were first-rate in every way—interpretations, orchestral execution, and recorded sound (see Fanfare 31: 6 and 32:6)—so I opened this one with considerable anticipation and high expectations.

The symphonies, of course, present far more extensive and formidable interpretive challenges than much of the other orchestral music of Sibelius that Inkinen has recorded to date, and the recorded competition is prodigious, with at least 20 of the three dozen complete recorded editions currently available. In this first installment of what promises to be cycle 37, Inkinen asserts his individuality right at the outset, allowing his excellent principal clarinetist an unusual degree of freedom in phrasing the First Symphony’s opening solo. The ensuing Allegro is indeed energico —ardent and dynamic. The important woodwind solos are lovely, and Naxos’s sound is wonderfully transparent. The second movement is just as fine, expressive and wistful at the opening and close, but featuring a powerful central climax. In the Scherzo, Inkinen indulges his occasional tendency to plod—my one criticism of his earlier Sibelius recordings—and threatens to weigh down the proceedings; this movement needs, well, to move in order to provide sufficient contrast to the surrounding music. The opening of the Finale and the big C-Major tune are imposing and impressive; the development (the Allegro molto come prima at Figure K in the Dover score) strikes me as perhaps a notch too cautious. Overall, this is a large-scale First, one of only a handful that last more than 40 minutes, but still deserving a place in the top tier along with Davis (Philips), Ormandy (Sony), Rattle (EMI), and Blomstedt (Decca).

The Third, on the other hand, sounds to me as though Inkinen is trying to do too much. This is Sibelius’s most “classical” symphony, but the present performance sounds too often like an attempt to make it sound as “romantic” as the First and Second. The opening is already very deliberate, with the third beat of each measure incongruously accented; the beginning of the development (the Tranquillo at Figure 5) and the coda (Figure 16: un pochettino largamente , or the slightest bit more broadly) are exaggeratedly slower than the main body of the movement. The second movement is tonally very beautiful—again featuring very fine wind solos—but is taken so deliberately that it gives the impression of six beats per measure rather than two. Things get back on track in the last movement, whose tricky opening is deftly handled, and which overall works well, but this is a fairly idiosyncratic reading, and not one I imagine returning to nearly as often as the First. My preferred versions remain those of Maazel (Decca and Sony), Järvi (BIS), Blomstedt, and Segerstam (Ondine).

At their best, as they are for most of the First Symphony, Inkinen and the NZSO continue to be a most impressive team of Sibelius interpreters; producer/engineer Tim Handley continues to get wonderful results in Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre; and, the price is right. This is a very fine first installment in a series that will definitely bear continued watching.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in E minor, Op. 39 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899; Finland 
Symphony no 3 in C major, Op. 52 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907; Finland 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Good performances of Sibelius 1 and 3 July 4, 2017 By Gail M. (Goleta, CA) See All My Reviews "These are enjoyable performances of both symphonies. The interpretations are reasonable and the playing is accurate. But I think I would have liked them a little more if the sound had been a bit more open. it is not up to the best standards of Naxos orchestral recordings." Report Abuse
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