Wednesday 2 May 2007

Jansons and the Concertgebouw play Sibelius 2

Over at the naim forum, I've been writing a long series of posts summing up my collection of Sibelius on disc and I thought I would post the latest instalment here, not least as it has the flimsiest of connections to the festival (namely that Mariss Jansons is giving the very symphony, albeit with his other, Bavarian, orchestra here in the last week of the festival).

This is Jansons' second recording of the work (the first, on EMI, features the Oslo Philharmonic, an orchestra with whom Jansons had a long, and judging from the few recordings I own, by the end, rather special relationship, and was coupled with the 3rd, 5th and a couple of smaller works). His success on the Concertgebouw's own label has thus far been a little more muted. His Heldenleben was fine enough, though didn't altogether push my buttons; the disc of Beethoven and Brahms' second symphonies was an odd pairing, the latter of which didn't quite come off. The Mahler 6, though fine enough, paled next to his recent effort for LSO Live.

So, how does this fare? The first movement opens with a middling tempo (perhaps a little on the slow side). The timings, for what it may be worth, are virtually identical to his earlier reading. A bigger difference is to be found in the dynamic range, where the contrasts between loud and quiet are not nearly so severe. However, the orchestra plays splendidly and Jansons creates some wonderful textures. Unfortunately, he does slightly spoil some of the big climaxes by rushing them a little. In the second movement the playing is again excellent, especially from the winds. What is particularly impressive is the clarity with which he brings out the various musical lines. A rather jumpy reading, in a good way, and although not brisk, a long way from Bernstein too. The movement's climax is very nice. The third movement opens briskly. The playing is full of excitement, and it is a credit to the players that they do not slip. He produces some extreme, but well judged, contrasts in tempo and magnificently builds and transitions into the finale, where the brass playing is especially fine. There is also a nice sweep to his reading. Unfortunately it does drag slightly in places. But he does build a wonderful momentum for the final few minutes to a magnificent close. Throughout the reading there is a wonderfully dark feeling and a great clarity. He produces only a moderate chill, rather than the frozen temperatures of Bernstein. The recording is very well balanced and Jansons finds some great textures (and ones that feel new, or at any rate, fresh, to me). Indeed, this typifies one of the reasons the RCO label has always excited me, namely this orchestra's delicious and unique texture. The only problem is, as with his Mahler, I can't help feeling that conductor and orchestra are not yet quite so perfectly in sync with each other as he was with the Oslo Philharmonic. Doubtless that will come in time.

At the time of the disc's release I held off after CD Review suggested the fact the performances it is taken from were spread out had led to inconsistency. Listening, I don't think this is fair. A bigger flaw: for a single, mid-priced disc, one work that lasts just three quarters of an hour is poor value.

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