Osmo Vänskä / Lahti Symphony Orchestra

The Sound of Sibelius

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The works by Jean Sibelius on this fine release are generally programmed singly, as appetizers or curtain calls for the supposedly more serious symphonies of Sibelius and others. Hearing them together puts them in a different light, in addition to being just plain enjoyable. What strikes the listener is the range of orchestral textures. It's as great as in the symphonies, which differ not so much in the orchestral writing as in the comparatively more complex thematic development. The program here includes a few hits -- Finlandia and the Valse Triste, Op. 44/1 -- along with programmatic works that included some less-often-heard works (Scene with Cranes, Op. 44/2, the companion piece to the Valse Triste). Sibelius has always separated the top-notch orchestras and conductors from the second tier; enthusiasm may take you a long way with Mozart, but not with the likes of The Wood-Nymph, Op. 15 (track 2), with its fluttering string figures. That work makes as good a place as any to start in sampling the recording, but you can rest assured that the precision of Finland's Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä never flags. The acoustics, from the orchestra's remarkable wood-paneled Sibelius Hall, are another high point, and the only real complaint is that if you're looking for a recording of Finlandia, specifically, the performance here feels phoned in. Finnish musicians must get a bit tired of this work, and everything else is a sheer joy. Some of these recordings were taken from the BIS label's complete Sibelius edition, where they were in stereo; they were remixed for this SACD release.

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