Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 9
How do you ruin the Valse triste? Well, play it this spasmodically for starters. Speed it up, slow it down, strip it of all elegance, all sensuality. I mean, really, how difficult can this be? Thomas Sondergard seems to be one of those conductors with negative passion–he sucks so much life and color from this music. Finlandia’s opening conveys no menace. The famous hymn tune flits by with no emphasis, making no impression. En Saga’s fearsome climaxes fail to climax. The Oceanides starts out well, but Sondergard mistimes the final crescendo, bringing the brass in too late to make the necessary impact. The Swan of Tuonela comes off best: it’s direct and unaffected, but then once you create the right atmosphere the piece basically plays itself.
It’s always good to hear the King Christian II Suite–the music is marvelous. The opening Nocturne is one of Sibelius’ homages to Tchaikovsky, but you’d never know it in this hasty, unsexy performance. The ensuing Elegy is disjointed–perhaps the closing Ballade comes off best because, again, the music’s directness minimizes the need for serious thought. I really don’t understand performances like this. We seem to be breeding conductors with no feeling for romantic music at all. Interpretively, they sound as if they’re afraid of their own shadows–allergic to the music’s color, rhetorical excess, and sheer exuberance. All I can say to Sondergard is: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: None for this collection
- SIBELIUS, JEAN:En Saga; Finlandia; The Swan of Tuonela; The Oceanides; Valse triste; King Christian II Suite