Sibelius - Symphony no.1, En saga
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Cat No: ALPHA440
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 25th January 2019
ArtistsGothenburg Symphony Orchestra
In the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (GSO) he finds a prestigious cohort of musicians with an impressive discography, and joins a line of their illustrious musical directors, notably Neeme Järvi, the orchestra’s principal conductor from 1982 to 2004, but also Gustavo Dudamel – who made his first major recordings with the GSO – Christoph Eschenbach, Kent Nagano, and others.
1Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39: I. Andante ma non troppo - Allegro energico
2Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39: II. Andante (Ma non troppo lento)
3Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39: III. Scherzo (Allegro)
4Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39: IV. Finale (Andante - Allegro molto - Andante assai - Allegro molo come prima - Andante)
5En saga, Op. 9
The Gothenburg Symphony has a long pedigree in this music going back to the days of Sibelius himself, and their playing throughout is immensely assured. Coupled with that is Rouvali’s incredible attention to colour and textural detail. He is also the same age as Sibelius was when he completed the First Symphony in 1899, and this performance has all the vitality of youth combined with a natural feel for the harmonic pedals that underpin the music’s progress. From the beautifully intoned opening clarinet theme (superbly played by principal clarinet Urban Claesson), through the animated Allegro energico to the growling close, the first movement is grippingly intense, while the second movement Andante produces some glorious sounds, not least the string choirs’ bracing transformation of the main theme at 1’59” and its exquisite follow-up.
The punchy Scherzo has an almost Mediterranean bounce and flair to it, as well as a Brucknerian sense of momentum, opening up to a magnificently Sibelian trio section with noble horns and lovingly intoned woodwind. But it is in the sprawling Finale that Rouvali really proves his mettle, drawing together the music’s disparate strands to defy any criticism of the movement’s structure and imbuing it with a profound sense of inevitability. The scurrying Allegro sections are superbly articulated without sacrificing any sense of excitement, while the framing Andante music has a noble depth to it, crowned by some truly splendid trumpet playing. This whole performances oozes class and character, providing further proof that the Gothenburg Symphony is one of the great Sibelius orchestras and, recorded in dazzling stereo, rivalling even the much-lauded Osmo Vänskä performances on BIS (in surround sound).
Most conductors pair the First with another of Sibelius’s symphonies, but Rouvali keeps the focus here firmly on beginnings with a remarkably compelling account of En saga in its customary revised version of 1902. There’s nothing normal about this performance, though, for it brings out layers of textural detail seldom heard even in the recording studio, but with an innate understanding of the work’s unstated but palpable ‘programme’. Indeed, it has a natural storyteller’s vividness, with an epic arc but relishing the individual episodes, from rapt introspection to exuberant action. Both collectively and individually the Gothenburg players completely enter this world of unspecified legend to create a powerful sense of engagement that lasts long after the final bars have died away, completely justifying the decision to place this work last on the disc.
If future releases in the cycle live up to this first instalment, it will certainly be one to watch and to return to with relish. Documentation and recording are first class, and Rouvali’s ‘solo’ debut is definitely one to remember.
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