Sibelius enhanced by unique string tone

Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand SO bear their souls in this fine performance of two very different Sibelius works

Composer: Sibelius
Repertoire:  Symphony No.2; Karelia Suite
Artists: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/ Pietari Inkinen
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: NAXOS 8.572704

The Music: Sibelius’s Second Symphony – in which he forged his most famous symphonic ‘big tune’ – is the warmest and most readily embracing of his seven. He wrote it not in the opaque light of Finland but in the blazing sunshine of Italy, and it shows. The Karelia Suite is rather different: a portrait of the Karelia area of Finland (that constantly risked Russian capture) which employs rather more stern and resolute music.

The Performance: So far from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius cycle we’ve had orchestral odds and ends (impressive), Symphonies 1 and 3 (disappointing) and Symphonies 4 and 5 (impressive again). You don’t get any surprises in this ‘big picture’ Second Symphony, just clarity of structure and effective pacing – particularly in the Andante, which unfolds with great patience and astute shifts in speed. All that care, and then conductor Inkinen bears his soul just in time for the build-up to the big tune – a magnificent effect. A slightly foggy recorded sound muffles winds and the NZSO’s unique string tone in the symphony, but that’s less of a problem in the Karelia Suite, which actually benefits from this misty sound, as if its rolling off a nearby lake. This Karelia’s intermezzo is one of the subtlest and effecting on record.

The Verdict: High playing standards, a firm grasp of the music’s architecture and emotional content, and a budget price: there are few complaints here except for that sound in the symphony.

Want More? To really hearth at unique NZSO string sound, check out their recording of Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau on NAXOS (8.570240), Disc of the Month back in September 2009.