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As a symphonic composer, Sibelius must be up there as one of the greenest; he was the biggest recycler in the business.
His views on the way a symphony should be a sealed unit, generating all its component musical parts from within seem to reach their zenith in this symphony. Its three opening notes more or less appear to form the entire backbone of what was to become one of his most popular works. Of course, you can’t question the genius with which it is done. The finale of this symphony particularly has the power to move the listener’s emotions. If you listen closely, you will notice that the upward three-note motif from the beginning of the work is still there in the music – and this only adds to the attraction.
It was premiered in 1902, not long after Finlandia had its first outing and just before Sibelius’ Violin Concerto made its debut. Pretty soon, the overtly Nordic sounds led the Symphony No.2 to be dubbed the ‘Symphony of independence’. Whether or not Sibelius actually intended this to happen has been open to debate, especially as sketches for it were begun while he was enjoying the beauty of the Italian countryside.
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra; Mariss Jansons (conductor). EMI Classics: 69717802.
Illustration: Mark Millington