Rouvali’s Desperate Sibelius 1

Review by: David Hurwitz

Sib1Rouvali

Artistic Quality: 4

Sound Quality: 8

Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s new recording of Sibelius’ Second Symphony was so lousy that I felt obligated to go back to his earlier version of the First Symphony to see if that Second was anomalous or par for the course. Unfortunately, “awful” seems to be his standard mode of operation, at least in Sibelius. There’s an air of desperation about this performance: a dogged determination to do something, anything, to be “different” and sound provocative. News flash Maestro Rouvali–you’re not provocative; just irritating.

Rouvali treats Sibelius’ score as so much raw material to be subjected to all kinds of random manipulations. There are the spurious hairpin brass crescendos in the lead-up to the counter-statement of the first movement’s principal theme, the dynamic adjustments in odd places, the strange tempo shifts and odd balances in the slow movement, the glacial pace for the Big Tune in the finale, and so forth. Rouvali prefers super-transparent textures, rather as Berglund did in his final symphony cycle, but with none of his elder colleague’s intelligent phrasing and idiomatic feeling for form. The result is shapeless, awkward, and unnatural.

En Saga goes better, but then it could hardly go worse. It’s just boring, which I suppose is better than annoying. The sonics are fine–perhaps the best thing about this production. The album cover shows the conductor signaling “Run away!” in Finnish sign language. Rouvali has the orchestra giving him everything he wants. There’s no question that he can conduct. What he lacks is taste.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony: Segerstam (Ondine); Bernstein (Sony)


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