Kamu’s Partially Successful Sibelius Cycle

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 10

If only this cycle had been made before Kamu turned into a micro-manager! He’s always had the measure of the music, but he’s trying way too hard here to make a Statement. You can enjoy him better, in the Second Symphony at least, in his earlier DG recording, conveniently packaged in a complete cycle in which Kamu gets Symphonies 1-3 while Karajan has the rest. At the current stage in his career, Kamu’s major affinity rests predominantly with Sibelius in “classical” mode: Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 and 6, alongside, exceptionally, an excellently shaped and paced No. 1. Indeed, No. 6 probably never has been bettered, especially in its outer movements. Elsewhere, though, there are problems.

There’s no gainsaying Kamu’s effective pacing of No. 7; what is missing is that quality of accent and rhetorical emphasis that brings the music to life. I’m not suggesting he has to go all-out the way, say, Ormandy does at the start of the central pastoral episode or in the closing pages, but the music is surely more eventful than as Kamu plays it.

Symphony No. 2 is just boring: the opening movement needs a firmer sense of rhythm from the very start, while the initial broken phrases in the strings and winds could have so much more character. The finale, too slow and placid by half, simply dies, with the Lahti strings audibly undernourished and given no encouragement from the podium.

Symphony No. 5, for all the clarity of texture, also suffers from a finale problem. Kamu’s determination to articulate the strings’ measured tremolandi results in a dreary, mechanical performance without a shred of excitement, grandeur, or urgency. The Lahti Symphony players, fine as they are–and they know this music by heart–simply havn’t the heft to compare with larger ensembles. Vänskä in his earlier cycle had the sense to compensate by offering far more interventionist (and controversial) interpretations, sometimes very fast (scherzo of the First) or very slow (Largo of the Fourth and middle movement of the Third), but at least he made you pay attention.

All of which brings up an obvious question: this is BIS’s fourth complete Sibelius cycle (almost). They started with Järvi, then came Vänskä in Lahti–still the best of the batch overall–followed up by the pointless, in-progress and generally disappointing Vänskä in Minnesota. That project was derailed, hopefully for good, by the orchestra’s recent strike. Now we have this sometimes great, sometimes lousy newcomer on three SACDs at full price. It’s not really competitive and, much as I understand Kamu’s having earned the right to make it, not worth the money. If BIS decides to release single discs of Nos. 1, 3, 4 or 6, go for them. Otherwise, don’t bother.


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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Vänskä/Lahti (BIS)

  • BIS - 2076
  • SACD

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