Notes and Editorial Reviews
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
incidental music, were first-rate in every way—interpretations, orchestral execution, and recorded sound (see
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
—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
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
at Figure 5) and the coda (Figure 16:
un pochettino largamente
, or the slightest bit more broadly) are
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
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in E minor, Op. 39 by Jean Sibelius
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1899; Finland
Symphony no 3 in C major, Op. 52 by Jean Sibelius
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1907; Finland
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