SIBELIUS Symphonies Nos 1 & 4
Osmo Vänskä’s new Sibelius cycle continues with the First and Fourth, a pairing he evidently likes, as that is how he started his previous cycle in Lahti. As I noted with Nos 2 and 5 (4/12), Vänskä’s interpretations have evolved over time and are now notably quicker in tempi. In the First Symphony, the difference amounts to a few seconds in each movement – the Scherzo is actually longer by two (it doesn’t feel it!) – but in the Fourth Vänskä has shaved a minute from his Lahti recording, mostly in the third movement, Il tempo largo; the Allegro finale is curiously longer by 15 seconds, the difference in pacing again not obvious, balancing the quicker opening Tempo molto moderato.
This results, in both symphonies, in slightly tauter accounts. The passion and sweep of the First, where I feel Sibelius – intentionally or otherwise – beat the Russians at their own game in writing a symphony on the Russian model, is even more electric than in Lahti, rivalling Berglund’s classic Helsinki version and overhauling those by Järvi and (dare I say it) Sir Colin Davis. There is a richer, slightly fuller sound to the Minnesota players, particularly noticeable in the Fourth’s stark slow movement, while losing none of the majesty of the writing, especially at the climax. Matters are less clear in the Fourth; while there are differences of approach in all the versions compared, this most stylistically advanced of Sibelius’s symphonies emerges equally well as a hugely powerful utterance. With superb sound as always from BIS, this new disc has set the bar for all to follow and past ones to be measured against.