INKPOT#106: SIBELIUS Symphony No.6 & 7. The Tempest Suite No.3. Iceland SO/Sakari (Naxos)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.6 in D minor, op.104
The Tempest Suite No.2, op.109 No.3
Symphony No.7 in C major, op.105Iceland Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Petri Sakari
by The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase
Next to their disc of the First and Third Symphonies , this is definitely the best of the Iceland Symphony/Sakari/Naxos cycle. I must say, after the mixture of results this cycle has produced, I wasn’t expecting anything from this disc, recorded in Feb-March 2000 – but it proved, thankfully, to be really really exemplary. The Sixth Symphony is performed with beauty, grace and feeling; The Tempest No.2 Suite with amiable colours and atmosphere; and the Seventh Symphony is totally in the grand, godly tradition of the greatest Karajanian-style Sevenths, all tempered with the crystalline icy beauty of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.
The Sixth Symphony begins here with a snowy haze of strings, icily beautiful, before the carefree exuberance of the (first) movement’s heart takes centrestage. Sakari demonstrates a superb sense of pacing throughout this album – it brings about the unity of the rarefied lush of the Sixth, and binds together in heroic mettle the mountainous solidity of the Seventh. The music proceeds with patient energy under their hands, glowing with strength yet never a hint of rushing.
Spritely detail abound in the dancing faires of the Sixth, later to be taken up in the theatre music of The Tempest. Here in the symphony, the spring and flutter of life is celebrated by the musicians. The intricacies of the upper string figures, supported by the rich hummings of the bass lines – are simply superb to hear here, aided by the gorgeous acoustics of the Concert Hall of Reykjavik, Iceland. Sakari takes a bold-toned approach to the Sixth, not quite as melancholy as alternative versions. This produces a Sixth that is very approachable, though I am not trying to say it is “loud”. For example, the Sixth’s second movement here is langorous rather than shy.
Indeed, what further distinguishes this Sixth is perhaps the interpretation’s sense of forwardness and confidence – it lends a certain momentum and glow to the performance which I must say I really enjoyed. Listen to how liberated the orchestra sounds in the opening of the Poco vivace – the united swirl of the violins, the thumping conclusion – this is one lively Sixth! It continues into the finale: save the quiet ending, the main body of this interpretation is weighty and energetic, some of the climaxes coming close to boisterousness. But I enjoyed it all. The conclusion is filled with religiosity, as the orchestra hymns richly to the end – and the end itself returns to the familiarity of familiar Sixths, a quiet, resigned sigh. All the more the contrast, all the more refreshing. Excellent.
The Tempest Suite (No.2, which is No.3 of the composer’s Op.109) takes its place most suitably between the symphonies, as the quiet Chorus of the Winds takes over from the Sixth’s end. Sakari and the Icelanders turn meek in this Suite, as the gentle music evokes from them reverence and quiescence. The Chorus is more reserved than I recall of other versions, and the Intermezzo which follows very tranquil indeed. The harpist in both movements demonstrates a very fine touch.
The other movements are equally well-done. Though this Prospero does not match the Lahti SO on BIS, it is very dignified, rather like The Naiads movement. The Dance of the Nymphs and Song II are lightweight and carefree. Miranda is sweet and even has the slightest hint of something naughty/seductive (I am not going to try to explain this; it’s just how it feels to me).
Now for the Seventh Symphony: the “bad” thing about it is that it sounds familiar – like a combination of Karajan’s Seventh(s), but without being so heavy, Segerstam’s grandiose style (without being quite so extreme), and the sensitive intellectualism of Berglund’s Seventh (but not so unique). In all, this is a very beautiful account of the symphony. It is also far more inspiring and emotionally sensitive than the Lahti Symphony account on BIS .
Well-paced, well-directed, the Iceland Symphony exude both the warmth of humanity and cool, icy wonderment in the performance. The buildups are very fine, and the first trombone solo is utterly majestic. After the vitality of the Sixth, this Seventh is calm and filled with regal grandeur. No lack of energy of course, which piles magnificently in the third climax, after which the Icelanders subside into and rise into a very satisfying conclusion, the storm-rolling timpani, sun-struck string layers, humming brass bellowing the final chords with awe-striking vision.
A very fine conclusion to the cycle.
799: 17.11.2000 Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase