Sibelius and Schubert CD reviews


SIBELIUS: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oramo (Chandos CHAN 20136) ★★★★★

Sakari Oramo has always been a committed conductor of his countryman's music and during his tenure with the CBSO recorded a complete symphony cycle – uneven and sometimes lightweight – for Erato. This new Sibelius disc shows Oramo taking a tougher, weightier and more trenchant view. The performance of the Lemminkäinen Suite is magnificent aided by a splendidly wide-range recording – the thunderous timpani rolls and Alison Teale's keening cor anglais in The Swan of Tuonela are captured thrillingly. It was recorded in Watford Colosseum last year – the same venue where Sir Colin Davis recorded it for RCA with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2000. Oramo's Lemminkäinen in Tuonela takes 14.47 while Davis's is an expansive 18.19 – yet both work perfectly. Oramo's hero strikes our determinedly, confident and valiant: Davis anticipates his grisly end with a hushed, mist-shrouded opening. Spring Song and the colourful Suite from Belshazzar's Feast are both engagingly played rarities.

SCHUBERT: CBSO / Gardner (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5234 ★★★★

Following their successful series "Mendelssohn in Birmingham" with Chandos, the CBSO and conductor Edward Gardner return to the Town Hall for the first volume in a Schubert symphony cycle, with Nos. 3, 5 and 8. Gardner uses a chamber-sized CBSO with a dash of historical-performance practice – brisk tempos and easy on the vibrato. There's no Beecham-style twinkle-in-the-eye to the effervescent fifth's opening. It's a young man's music and Gardner presents it lithe and limber, launched urgently away, full of the joys of spring. The scherzo goes at a snappy one-in-a-bar – no anachronistic Straussian one, two, three – and the finale's Haydnesque changes of mood are delightfully captured. The CBSO's playing here and in the easygoing pastoral third symphony is nimble and crisply executed. The Unfinished is thoughtful, poised and restrained but never underpowered – music as conversation not declamation. For the grandly rhetorical, fervid or febrile interpretations Böhm, Sinopoli and Kleiber are available.

Norman Stinchcombe

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