Santtu-Matias Rouvali / Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Sibelius: Symphony No. 1; En Saga

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The long-haired Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been gaining recognition in Scandinavia and increasingly, in the late 2010s, in Britain for big dramatic readings that often bring something new even to familiar works like the pair of early Sibelius orchestral pieces heard on this Alpha release. The Symphony No. 1in E minor, Op. 39 is often described as Tchaikovskian, and indeed there's an abundance of broad, slightly melancholy tunes that bring that composer to mind. But Rouvali, leading Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony (of which he was recently named chief conductor), focuses instead on the elements where Sibelius departs from Tchaikovsky. The lonely clarinet opening is given space here, and the Gothenburg soloist steps up to fill it. Sample further into the first movement, where Tchaikovskian lyricism gives way to a tumultuous passage where each harmony seems wrenched from the previous one in a way very characteristic of Sibelius. Rouvali's reading is thrilling. The tone poem En saga, Op. 9, which in lesser hands has potboiler aspects, is also energetic and involving in Rouvali's hands. With fine engineering in Gothenburg's symphony hall, which was built with big Scandinavian sounds in mind, this album provides yet another good reason to pay attention to the career of Santtu-Matias Rouvali.

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