SIBELIUS Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7
As Osmo Vänskä powers into the home straight of his Minnesota Sibelius cycle, the first thing that strikes one about his newly minted account of the Third Symphony is the keenness of the articulation. It’s the aural equivalent of crisp, cold air.
Vänskä’s Sibelius is all about clarity – of rhythm, of texture, of intention. It is zealously unfussy and entirely without exaggeration. But it can stop you in your tracks. The ‘no-man’s-land’ we enter a few pages into the Third – a moment or two of reflection in a barren landscape – can rarely have sounded more like Sibelius’s ‘pure spring water’. But in the suddenness of the hush Vänskä manages to change the way the air moves in Minnesota Hall. I love the simplicity and limpidity of the second movement, and the gathering of energy at the heart of the third movement is tremendous – that’s where the resplendent final procession is generated.
The Third and Sixth Symphonies feel even more closely related than usual. The quietism of the Sixth speaks volumes. If ever a piece existed between the notes, this is it. In the seemingly negligible the considerable is to be found – like the tremulous darkening before the close of the first movement; a major event writ small. And that is especially startling on account of the luminosity surrounding it. There really isn’t much to say about a performance that just feels perfectly balanced – in music as in nature. I will add, though, that the evaporating final chord is startling.
And so to the almost but not quite conclusive Seventh – epic in all but duration, as grand and elemental as it is concise. Small ideas grow great with inevitability – a testament to Sibelius’s genius and Vänskä’s integrity. And it sounds splendid. This of all the symphonies seems to come up through the bass-lines, and as we approach the second major upheaval, the chromatic undulation of strings – the movement of tectonic plates – is perfectly in balance with what is happening above.
One just knows that the ear-pricking clarity throughout these performances is of Vänskä’s and not the balance engineer’s making. And as for that eleventh-hour resolution into C major, it is as emphatic as it is precipitous. The full stop that’s more of a question mark.