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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.
LINN RECORDS CKD566 [75:06]

In the year in which the BBC National Orchestra of Wales celebrates its ninetieth year, Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård and Linn set two of Sibelius's most tremblingly imaginative tone poems (early and late-ish) amid a series of concert pops. The juxtaposition also works as two theatre-derived pieces rubbing shoulders with pure concert music. It remains a good mix, even if I would rather have swapped out Finlandia, Valse Triste and The Swan in favour of Nightride and Sunrise and Pohjola's Daughter. Perhaps one day … It was not that long ago that this team regaled us with two discs of the symphonies (1 & 6; 2 & 7) but that part of the project seems to have been choked off or at least put on hold.

This En Saga leaves the listener in no doubt that Linn have a blooming and big hall effect as their objective. They are not, however, inclined to the sort of sensationalism that blows your socks off. Søndergård has a satisfyingly aggressive way with rhythmic vigour and the creepily saw-toothed - examples can be found at 2:37 and 4:33. This is a natural recording and one that is transparently rendered but in En Saga I still hanker after old 'friends'. There was Horst Stein with a devastating impact that was hammered and honed by close-quarters Decca FFRR. Not to be forgotten in this work are Toscanini (Music & Arts), Collins, Van Beinum and Boult.

Søndergård's rousing Finlandia roars along while the famous Swan floats along a sedate course that avoids sedation. A contrast - but not a corrective - is the dazzle and glare of the almost startling version on HDTT from Morton Gould "and his Orchestra". The BBCNOW's very fine Oceanides rises to a maelstrom that points forwards to Tapiola and The Tempest. All that brooding tension and thunderous expression slips away for a perfectly phrased Valse Triste. Rather than the grip completely dissipating, the shifting tempi and perspectives of this magical piece are held taut. The King Christian II suite is warmly coloured (tambourine in the first movement) and does not shrink from the language of the Second Symphony in the Nocturne. This is a full-throated big hall reading of the Suite which is given a most impressive symphonic impulse. These recordings and readings equate integrity with restraint and warrant being played at a higher than usual volume. There's an unsurprisingly readable and informative note by Andrew Achenbach. The booklet is in English only.

Linn had their own Sibelian CV before the BBC Hoddinott Hall beckoned. It came in the shape of a selection of the theatre music (CKD220) from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Joseph Swensen - a conductor who has also directed the BBCNOW in Sibelius's First Symphony.

Rob Barnett

 




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