Leif Segerstam

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 5

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The problem with Leif Segerstam's first recording of Sibelius' Symphonies No. 3 and 5 wasn't that it was only available on separate discs because each of those discs was generously filled with more of Sibelius' orchestral music. The problem wasn't that Segerstam was conducting the Danish National Radio Orchestra, because even if the musicians weren't Finnish, they played with the precision and power of the best international orchestras. The problem wasn't even that Segerstam was a bad Sibelius conductor, because most of his Danish Thirds and Fifths are terrific. The problem was that Segerstam was an eccentric Sibelius conductor. Through his excruciatingly idiosyncratic tempos and textures, Segerstam's Danish Sibelius was an almost incoherent mess.

But Segerstam's second recording of the Third and Fifth, with the Helsinki Philharmonic, completely transcends the eccentricities of his Danish Third and Fifth. Nowadays, Segerstam's control of tempo is complete and his command of texture is total. With the wonderfully idiomatic playing of the Finnish orchestra, Segerstam finds the ideal balance in Sibelius' music between structure and evocation, between mass and motion. His Third has the nuance of chamber music and the overwhelming strength of orchestral music. His Fifth has the speed of the rain, the size of a glacier, and the power of the cosmos. In these Finnish performances, Segerstam not only transcends his Danish eccentricities, he creates two of the greatest later Sibelius recordings. Ondine's sound is the thing in itself.

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