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CD reviews: Classical.

Byline: Christopher Morley

Sibelius, Symphonies 1 & 3, Finlandia


What will probably end up as being one of the finest recorded cycles of all seven Sibelius symphonies continues with this refreshing coupling of the Finnish master's First and Third, his compatriot Sakari Oramo drawing perceptive, unhackneyed readings from his responsive CBSO.

Set down early this year in Symphony Hall, the recordings have a natural sense of space and atmosphere, well-suited to the almost geographical sense of time and place Oramo conveys. Opening with Colin Parr's poignant, controlled clarinet solo (Nino Rota must have known this score when he penned the music which begins The Godfather, the First Symphony progresses with string writing which is often confidingly conversational rather than bombastically rhetorical.

Pulsating, dancing textures are fluid, almost whimsical in the first movement's great climax, followed by the dark, forest imagery of fluttering woodwind. After an unashamedly Tchaikovskian slow movement the scherzo is lighter, fleeter than Simon Rattle's over-emphatic recorded version. The finale's 'big tune' reprise is all the more affecting for being understated, its harp underscoring lightly, delicately delivered.

The Third Symphony boasts equally tensile string-playing, woodwind filigree beautifully dovetailed in the recorded perspective. There is little sense of triumphalism in this interpretation; rather, a sense of victory hard-won through many passages of darkness and struggle (the Intermezzo, for example, is tragic and deliberate rather than the almost fey lilting dance it can sometimes appear).

Even the old warhorse Finlandia has its tremulous, delicate moments here, making the eventual appearance of the great patriotic hymn-tune much more moving than usual.


French Operetta Arias


I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this well-intentioned disc. Recorded in the versatile and accommodating ambience of the CBSO Centre it brings ravishing performances from soprano Susan Graham of a selection of rare French operetta arias.

The CBSO accompanies with style under Yves Abel, but one is left with an impression of decided bittiness to the whole concept.

A glossy insert-booklet has all the texts and translations, but you have to work very hard to find which composer (they include Moises Simons, Andre Messager, Maurice Yvain, Arthur Honegger and Reynaldo Hahn) wrote which aria, and there is no biographical information about the performers at all.


Christopher Morley


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Christopher Morley
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 25, 2002
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