Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 8
This may not be the best Sibelius cycle on the market at budget price (that honor goes to Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony on Philips), but it has many virtues. After a less-than-impressive start with the first two symphonies, works not really suited to the smallish size of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra nor to Petri Sakari’s less-than-epic approach, the performances hit their stride. Symphonies Nos. 3, 6, and 7 rank high in a crowded field, while Nos. 4 and 5 command respect if not quite achieving the same quality. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s characterful winds and rhythmically precise strings realize the chamber music textures of the last symphonies particularly well, especially No. 6, which despite slowish tempos makes a very powerful impression.
Jorma Panula’s Kullervo Symphony, while unfussy and accurately played, lacks the passion and drama that many other conductors, from Berglund to Salonen to Vänskä have brought to the score, but still comes across convincingly if a trifle bland here and there. The low level recordings from Iceland need a good volume boost to sound their best; but with that adjustment they exhibit fine body, detail, and focus. In sum, this budget box has a lot going for it and Sibelius collectors should hear it for the insights Sakari brings particularly to the late works (though these are also available separately). For a first choice at the best price, though, stick with Davis.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Symphonies: Davis/BSO (Philips), Vänskä/Lahti Sym. (BIS)
JEAN SIBELIUS - Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Kullervo; The Tempest Suites Nos. 1 & 2