Mark Elder / Hallé Orchestra

Sibelius: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6

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In the 20th century, critical reception of the works of Jean Sibelius varied considerably in the United States, but they have been enthusiastically embraced in England, ever since the composer conducted his Symphony No. 1 in E minor and Finlandia in Liverpool in 1905. Sibelius was especially championed over the ensuing decades by British conductors, among them Thomas Beecham, John Barbirolli, Colin Davis, Adrian Leaper, and Simon Rattle. Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra have maintained this tradition by recording all seven symphonies and some orchestral pieces, completing the cycle with this 2019 release of the Symphony No. 4 in A minor and the Symphony No. 6 in D minor, which are frequently paired on albums. Both works share melancholy, even gloomy moods and a kind of stylistic ambiguity resulting from Sibelius' position as one of the last of the post-Romantics to engage modernism on his terms. Elder's solid interpretations maintain the forward trajectories of the music, and even though Sibelius' novel harmonies and wayward melodies are organically developed and coherent on their own terms, they can engender a vagueness that blurs conventional aspects of symphonic form and make the symphonies resemble atmospheric tone poems. Elder's sharp focus on details leaves nothing in doubt, and he reinforces the standard four-movement Classical structure by drawing out utterly precise and incisive playing from the Hallé, who have decades of experience playing this music. Add to this the exceptionally vibrant sound and wide dynamic range of the Hallé label's recording, and listeners will likely be impressed and eager to seek out the complete set when available.

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