Sibelius Symphonies Nos 1 & 7
Can this really be the same Leif Segerstam who made such a meal of these two Sibelius symphonies only a decade or so previously? Robert Layton was understandably frustrated by the numerous mannerisms which blighted those earlier Chandos recordings; mercifully, this new pairing is an entirely different proposition, an issue to rank alongside Segerstam’s outstanding Helsinki PO coupling of the Legends and Tapiola (Ondine, 7/96) in its pungent character and re-creative spark.
Bracing drama and a bold emotional scope are the keynotes to Segerstam’s deeply pondered reading of the First Symphony. Assisted by alert and enthusiastic playing from his Helsinki band, he uncovers much illuminating detail within Sibelius’ meticulous canvas, yet seldom (unlike its predecessor) to the detriment of the grander scheme. You may not agree with every interpretative decision, but Segerstam never sells the music short, revelling in its passion and often daring originality (sample the untamed fury of the Allegro molto material in the finale – nature red in tooth and claw). If Segerstam’s strikingly pliable account lacks the thrust of, say, Vänskä’s exhilarating Lahti SO performance, his Helsinki strings generate greater lyrical breadth.
The Seventh is less provocative. Segerstam’s is well paced and keenly phrased, hitting real heights in the darkly boiling maelstrom beginning at 13 bars before fig L (9'53") and awe- inspiring culmination at fig Z (18'06"). Again, his orchestra responds with zest and no mean poise. In fact, despite what sounds suspiciously like an edit at 15'50", I’d rate this Seventh as one of the most imposing and highly charged of recent years. True, the recording is very good rather than exceptional, but Segerstam is never dull and makes you listen.