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Reviews: Sibelius: The Complete Symphonies - Neeme Järvi

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Reviews: 3

Site review by akiralx August 6, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:    
An opportunity to hear the seven Sibelius symponies in multi-channel SACD sounds too good to miss as they are favourite works of mine and I know them pretty well. I had great hopes, although I was really buying this set 'blind' (or deaf?), as I had read no reviews. The recordings were made between November 2001 and March 2005 - the first two symphonies are live. They are 48kHz/24 bit PCM recordings, the multi-channel layers are all 5.0, i.e. without a LFE channel. The set comes on 4 SACDs in card sleeves in a rigid hinged box.

Interpretatively these are fine readings - tempo-wise Jarvi is uncontroversial though the Sixth symphony is slightly long at 31'19 while the Seventh is the longest I've heard at 24'37.

I started with the first two symphonies, in multi-channel - my first mental note was whether there was any sonic difference detween the live recordings and the last five symphonies made in the same hall but without an audience. This work started out very well : there is a very clean but warm sound and a wide soundstage, all in a good acoustic. At first I thought the strings were a tad too refined. As the work progresses they 'dig in' more and play with more sweep, though I felt that in the first movement Jarvi was perhaps using a palette more suitable for the Fourth symphony for the more Tchaikovskian First - Leonard Bernstein in his VPO recording on DG gets a more appropriate sound here. I'm wondering if the engineers made the sonic picture more 'present' either during the performance or later as one feels the orchestra sounds slightly more vivid after the first movement - though maybe Jarvi's view of the opening Andante - Moderato is that it should have an other-worldly feel.

Good things I noticed are the fine presence of woodwind solos and very vivid brass timbres - both come to the fore in the First's Andante which is extremely well done, both fresh and idiomatic. The only snag for me was that the timpani (very important in this work) though clearly audible were slightly indistinct and lacked some presence. The string playing in the Finale is really excellent, with firm bass and real grandeur - though some might find Jarvi's slightly deliberate tempo for the ascending string passage just before the close of the work a little too measured; I rather liked the effect to be honest, and enjoyed the whole performance. There is no applause. I would rate this alongside (but not in preference to) Segerstam's very fine Ondine account as among the best of recent years

I seem to recall that Jarvi's previous recording of the Second for BIS was pretty quick - this one lasts 46'42 and has a disc to itself. Sound-wise this is very fine: vivid and clear with a lovely bloom on the sound. As in the First the use of the rear channels is subtle throughout but pleasing. The performance is straightforward but fresh, with exciting playing throughout, especially in the finale where the wonderful opening melody is played with great sweep at an ideal tempo. The lower brass make a superb impact also! In the coda Jarvi makes a few subtle swells in the brass chorale which I prefer to having the whole passage crudely blasted out, though some might crave a little more sheer excitement here. Maybe Davis on RCA is superior as a performance.

Of the studio recordings (or those made at least under studio conditions), the Fourth (perhaps my favourite) is particularly well done - the string lines of the brooding opening have an unusual clarity with intense playing throughout. The Largo is beautifully played and is sensibly paced at 11'21 (though I have a fondness for Vanska's glacially slow 14+ mins reading on BIS). The depth of sound is compelling throughout this symphony. No shortage of good recordings of the Fourth, Karajan's 1965 version is a favourite, but this is excellent.

The Third on the same disc starts vigorously, an effect which I like as often this work (probably my least favourite of the seven) can meander - here the first movement is pretty dramatic, as is the third movement. The Andantino is taken at an ideal tempo, lasting just under 11 minutes, with its central woodwind chorale beautifully played.

The Fifth is similarly fine: nothing unusual interpretatively, but full of imaginative touches and with very good sound. The clarity of the string playing means that one hears rather more detail than in other performances - here repeated wind and string figures are more cleanly delineated. Jarvi's view of the slow movement is quite romantic, slightly richer texturally than usual. I like the way the 'swinging hammer' melody in the Finale is not too blatant or emphatic but integrated into the orchestral fabric. The dramatic coda is particularly well handled.

In the Sixth's opening movement the wind solos have a beautiful timbre and occasionally are slightly slower as the second movement begins, giving a new feel to the work. The balances in the Poco vivace third movement are beautifully handled with great subtlety, as they are too in the finale, which Jarvi takes quite slowly in places (it lasts 10'58), which I found I liked as it brings out more detail than normal. Beautiful contributions from the oboe and lower brass - the more dramatic passages have real sweep.

I would rate this Sixth as perhaps the best in the set, as it really does have some interesting interpretative ideas from Jarvi, all of which come off well in my opinion. Wonderful sound as usual too, especially in the haunting closing pages. I had now established that there is really little difference between the first two live symphonies and the remainder, though I noted the slight lack of presence in 1/i.

The one movement Seventh (given 4 tracks) is similarly beautifully recorded, and as I mentioned above is taken at a steady tempo, which just allows the listener to revel in the unique Sibelian sound world. I can't think of a recording I've heard where this work of genius sounds as sheerly beautiful as here. There is no lack of impetus though, and in this performance one hears the instrumental lines just beautifully blended, from string basses and lower brass up. Just sample the storm-like passage in the Vivacissimo section for real power, stunningly played. Other performances might be a tad more dramatic in terms of pure speed but this is one I will return to very often - I especially like the slightly understated ambivalent close of the work, though Karajan on DG is more my ideal.

I strongly recommend this set: the playing is not only flawless throughout but has real Sibelian insight. Jarvi has obviously brought all his experience to bear on his interpretations of these fabulous works and he has given us a Sibelius cycle of wonderful quality. There were no disappointments at all - the Second, Third and Fourth are particularly good, and with the Sixth and Seventh symphonies Jarvi has provided recordings that in my view are unique and essential listening for Sibelians.

Most of the performances deserve virtually a five star rating, but I'd downgrade the rating slightly for the First and Fifth which are less revelatory and perhaps only worth 4 stars - so I've given 4.5 overall.

Sonically the set is excellent - not quite the equal of the very best multi-channel orchestral recordings I have heard on SACD, but wonderfully spacious, vivid and with excellent detail that brings certain facets of the symphonies to the listener's attention as in no other recordings I have heard. The use of the rear channels is discreet throughout (I may even boost them by 2dB or so next time). In fact it was only when I switched to stereo that I realised what a significant but subtle contribution they had made in terms of soundstage and sonic perspective. These recordings very nearly warrant five stars.

In stereo I only sampled the Third and Fourth symphonies: the soundstage is clearly narrower but the recordings still sound pleasing, if without the clarity and depth that the centre and rear channels seem to provide.

Review by nickc August 19, 2005 (10 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
To me the Sibelius 7 are the greatest corpus of symphonies after Beethoven and, as such, are essential listening. In short nos.3 - 7 are outstanding, nos.1 and 2 could do with a little bit more fire.
No.1 was the first to be recorded and in general is excellent. First movement could be a bit more apocalyptic, scherzo is fast and furious but at the great string threnody around 8.00 in to the finale Jarvi broadens the melody too much for my taste - almost as if he loves it so much he doesn't want it to end!
No.2 is really spacious - 46.42 in total. Sibelius himself used to take around 38". A quick comparison of first movement timings will illustrate my point: Jarvi here takes 10.25, Jansons takes 9.03, Berglund (EMI) 8.53 and finally Jarvi himself on BIS takes 8.48 - so he is a full minute and a half slower than his own previous reading. Slow movement beautiful yet again the scherzo/finale is stretched out to 21 1/2 minutes versus (for example) Jansons on EMI who takes about 19 1/2.
For both these highly-charged "public" symphonies I wanted a bit more fire.
In comparison nos. 3-7 are magnificent performances - especially no.4 which is as deep, dark and brooding as you could hope for - for me this symphony is the highlight of the set.
By the time we get to no.7 we are in a completley different world from the first two symphonies so I am not asking for "fire" yet the 1st. movement is also distended out to 11.15 - in comparison Berglund takes 7.15! Also when the famous string melody comes in at about 6.44 it doesn't really sing out as much as I would have hoped. The final three movements are magnificent.
The sound is generally excellent. The symphonies were recorded generally in order from 1-7 - the first two being live performances. On minor point is that I would have preferred to be closer to the violins but the rest of the orchestra is captured perfectly. Although "only" 24/48 the sound is deep and full although the above mentioned violins are perhaps not as smoothly reproduced as on a pure DSD production.
I'll finish where I started - these works are the greatest after Beethoven's, the performances are generally excellent and the sound is also generally excellent: my recommendation is to go out and buy this set!

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Review by Chopi December 28, 2010 (5 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I have heard this version of the great Sibelius' Symphonic Cycle, and I feel rather dissapointed with it. Between a beautiful rendition of the Third and a quite dull Seventh, lie five middle on the road readings of the other five.
It happens that, the first time Järvi did the full Cycle for BIS, the Third was also the best of them.
The sound, in stereo SACD, is quite nice, with the Orchestra playing as one and with power; but as an interpretation, this renditions can't, I think, compete with those of Ashkenazy, Berglund, Davis or Vänskä (none of them in SACD)
So, if you want the sound alone, this album will fulfill your needs. But for me that is only a part of it, and not the most important...
I think that you should go after the great ones first of all, and perhaps, as a third or fourth choice, these can give you some pleassure.

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