Mark Elder / Hallé Orchestra

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3

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Bearing in mind their histories, one might have expected Mark Elder and the Hallé would be successful in their first recording of the symphonies of Jean Sibelius. The Hallé had, after all, been John Barbirolli's orchestra in its glory days of the '50s and '60s, and recordings of Sibelius' symphonies from that period are among the classic recordings of the works. Plus, the Hallé and Elder have recently made splendid recordings together of Elgar's symphonies and Delius' tone poems, and often excellence in these English fin de siècle composers portends excellence in the Finnish fin de siècle composer; look at the career of Barbirolli as an exemplar. So, considering Elder is a skillful and seasoned conductor and the Hallé is his strong, supple instrument, that these performances of Sibelius' First and Third symphonies have artistic merit is unsurprising.

What is surprising is how straightforward the performances are. Elder's tempos are right down the middle with an inexorable sense of forward momentum, an essential quality in Sibelius. He treats both works, the overtly tragic First and the more restrained Third, as full-blown romantic hero symphonies in interpretations of tremendous power and enormous expressivity. The Hallé is with Elder all the way, holding to him in the tempo changes, sticking to him in the dynamic shifts, and giving him virtuoso playing every bar of the way. Whether this disc ultimately takes a place among the great along with the earlier Hallé recordings remains to be seen, but there is no doubting their dramatic effectiveness. As before in this series, the sound is rich, wide, and deep.

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