Thomas Søndergård / BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sibelius: Finlandia; Swan of Tuonela; Oceanides; En saga; Valse triste

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

This album comes as something of an entr'acte in the cycle of Sibelius symphonies from Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and he applies the style familiar from his previous Sibelius symphony recordings to these mostly familiar tone poems. Finlandia and The Swan of Tuonela are so familiar, in fact, that Søndergård scores points just by offering something dramatically different from most of what's out there. His approach to Sibelius is dry, deliberate, and focused on transparency and the revelation of inner detail, and in realizing these goals, he draws fine playing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The solitary English horn Swan of Tuonela is as entrancing here as anywhere, but perhaps the real surprise is Søndergård's distinctive Finlandia. You might think, no, this work of all works should be a real foot-stomper, but in Søndergård's hands, it's more of a panorama of natural Finland, almost mystical, with the big finale emerging as a sort of unwieldy mountain. For En Saga, Op. 9, too, you can go elsewhere if you want blood and guts, but Søndergård's reading is fresh. The program lightens up as it proceeds with The Oceanides, Op. 73 (wrongly given as Op. 9 in the graphics), the ubiquitous Valse Triste, Op. 44, No. 1, and the less familiar King Christian II Suite, Op. 27, from a set of incidental music ending with a "Ballade" depicting a 1520 massacre. Søndergård is not quite up to the weight of this, and there are readings of the other works with smoother string sounds. But overall, if you're ready for a fresh look at Sibelius, Søndergård continues to provide it here.

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