Leading the Finnish Nationalist movement on the musical front at the turn of the 20th century, the music of Jean Sibelius was almost immediately appreciated both in his native country and abroad. His First Symphony, one of the two most commonly heard on the concert stage, shows an already fully developed 34-year-old composer burst onto the musical scene with a powerful, innovative, sometimes tragic, and sometimes mournful offering. Written about the same time as the First Symphony is the famous tone poem Finlandia, which came to be the musical trademark of the Finnish resistance to their Swedish and Russian oppressors. Both are works of intense passion and conviction that need little from conductors but to maintain the energy of the orchestra and be true to the score. Alexander Gibson proved himself to be just such a leader in this 1989 recording made with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The RPO sounds as commanding and authoritative as it ever has under Gibson's baton, with sweeping fortes, gentle pianos, lustrous string playing, warm woodwind solos, and a timpani player that punctuates the surprise of having a timpani solo in the third movement. This Alto disc also includes the less intense but equally beautiful Op. 11 Karelia Suite and the Op. 22 "Swan of Tuonela" from "Four Legends." Here again, Gibson's vision of Sibelius is one of focus and drive coupled sensitivity and warmth. Alto's remastered sound is clear, focused, and dynamic.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39|
|Karelia Suite, Op. 11|