Recommendations for Sibelius Symphonies

peteAllen

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Returning to this thread many years later, and now armed with a Sibellian January and a Qobuz account, I thought I'd attempt a Record Review style survey of all the recordings I have access to...

As a focus for comparison, I chose the first movement of the 6th. It has some challenges that some recordings fail quite badly on.

At certain points it can sound like the orchestra is discordant or fighting itself or out of tune. The Segerstam and Kamu recordings in particular.

Another seemingly tricky aspect is the dance rhythm after the intro, which makes some orchestras stumble or struggle to keep the pace or connect the sections well. The Neeme Jaarvi performance gets unstuck here for example, and Colin Davis is a bit insipid here in both LSO recordings and worse with the BSO. Sondergard/BBC Wales are out of their depth. Kamu doesn't keep the momentum well enough.

The Lahti/Vanska acquits itself very well on all the above counts, but I notice more what I believe turned me off in the OP: the sound is sparser, more distant, less involving. The Kamu recording suffers similarly from a weak sound. Ashkenazy is more involving and full blooded, if a little less Scandinavian and more Prussian sounding somehow, and galloping at times. That would be okay with say Beethoven but it's just not Sibelius. Barbirolli has a sweet yet authoritative sound, however it's definitely on the safe side and sometimes a bit of legato which sounds plain wrong to me here. Paarvo Jaarvi is on the lyrical side here, and I can't help feeling something's missing, despite it being technically excellent. Gibson/SNO strikes a balance rhythmically. Berglund/BSO is the most unusual recording rhythmically: slower at times, and then more metronome/clock like than dance like. It almost works well, but fails to feel natural. Berglund/COE is less mechanical performance, definitely worth a listen.
Oramo/CBSO is an interesting one. Quite relaxed, loose and free spirited. But is that Sibelian?
Now, Rattle, here is something special imo. Structure, tension, drama, pace, purpose. Am I thinking Mahlerian just because I'm aware it's Rattle? I could be very happy leaving this on and not bothering with more recordings

Elder/Halle is an excellent, satisfying, modern, balanced option. There's even different rhythmic decisions that fit really well. An antidote to the majority of recordings where the middle part of this movement is like a rhythmic interlude where you're waiting to get to the other side.

Bernstein plays Bernstein. Just kidding. This is the charismatic exciting choice. Full of verve, full of purpose. Articulate, rhythmically superb, and with a wonderful full sound. The NYP are of course a great orchestra, and Bernstein directs with real intention. In a way he makes Sibelius like Brahms, in that there's always something going on and it's always leading somewhere. It's unquestionably a top tier recording, though lacking that scandanavian authenticity, and perhaps too keen/exciting at times. Sibelius on fire!

Makela with Oslo Phil is quite something. Vivid, fresh, brimming with energy. Sibelius is somehow full of joy not bleakness. Fantastic sound quality, I think it's the best, truly audiophile, clear as crystal and natural imaging, with a full and forward soundstage. My only criticism is that in one section the rhythm is a bit mechanical.

Segerstam with the Danish Radio SO is quite different from the Helsinki performance. Excellent, clear sound. Sunny and refreshing, this is Sibelius with most of the bleakness cast off.


So, with brutal summary, in broad tiers...

Top Tier (in no particular order):
Ashkenazy = excellent if you think Sibelius is German
Rattle/CBSO = excellent if you love Mahler
Gibson = excellent but lacking that scandavian feel
Vanska/Lahti = excellent performance but uninvolving sound
Berglund/COE = excellent if you love Stravinsky (lively, rhythm is a little over punctuated)
Elder/Halle = excellent, intelligent, clean, modern sounding
Bernstein/NYP = excellent if you love charismatic & exciting (it's just that Sibelius wasn't)
Makela/Oslo Phil = lush, exciting, energetic, sometimes a bit heavy rhythmically. Glorious sound quality
Segerstam/Danish Radio SO = refreshing, relaxed, sunny, lush

Middle Tier:
Barbirolli/Halle = very good if you think Sibelius is English
Paarvo Jaarvi/Paris = very good if you think Sibelius is French / you love La Mer
Oramo/CBSO = very good but lacking tension
Colin Davis/LSO = solid but uninspiring
Colin Davis/BSO = good but rhythmically challenged/odd
Hughes/RPO = very good but too smooth/graceful
Rattle/BPO = very good, average sound

Bottom Tier:
Segerstam/Helsinki = technical fail
Sondergard = technical fail
Kamu = technical fail
Neeme Jaarvi = technical fail
Berglund/BSO = an oddity that doesn't ultimately work imo
 
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Camverton

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HiFi Trade?
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Returning to this thread many years later, and now armed with a Sibellian January and a Qobuz account, I thought I'd attempt a Record Review style survey of all the recordings I have access to...

As a focus for comparison, I chose the first movement of the 6th. It has some challenges that some recordings fail quite badly on.

At certain points it can sound like the orchestra is discordant or fighting itself or out of tune. The Segerstam and Kamu recordings in particular.

Another seemingly tricky aspect is the dance rhythm after the intro, which makes some orchestras stumble or struggle to keep the pace or connect the sections well. The Neeme Jaarvi performance gets unstuck here for example, and Colin Davis is a bit insipid here in both LSO recordings and worse with the BSO. Sondergard/BBC Wales are out of their depth. Kamu doesn't keep the momentum well enough.

The Lahti/Vanska acquits itself very well on all the above counts, but I notice more what I believe turned me off in the OP: the sound is sparser, more distant, less involving. The Kamu recording suffers similarly from a weak sound. Ashkenazy is more involving and full blooded, if a little less Scandinavian and more Prussian sounding somehow, and galloping at times. That would be okay with say Beethoven but it's just not Sibelius. Barbirolli has a sweet yet authoritative sound, however it's definitely on the safe side and sometimes a bit of legato which sounds plain wrong to me here. Paarvo Jaarvi is on the lyrical side here, and I can't help feeling something's missing, despite it being technically excellent. Gibson/SNO strikes a balance rhythmically. Berglund/BSO is the most unusual recording rhythmically: slower at times, and then more metronome/clock like than dance like. It almost works well, but fails to feel natural. Berglund/COE is less mechanical performance, definitely worth a listen.
Oramo/CBSO is an interesting one. Quite relaxed, loose and free spirited. But is that Sibelian?
Now, Rattle, here is something special imo. Structure, tension, drama, pace, purpose. Am I thinking Mahlerian just because I'm aware it's Rattle? I could be very happy leaving this on and not bothering with more recordings


So, with brutal summary, in broad tiers...

Top Tier (in no particular order):
Ashkenazy = excellent if you think Sibelius is German
Rattle/CBSO = excellent if you love Mahler
Gibson = excellent but lacking that scandavian feel
Vanska/Lahti = excellent performance but uninvolving sound
Berglund/COE = excellent if you love Stravinsky (lively, rhythm is a little over punctuated)

Middle Tier:
Barbirolli/Halle = very good if you think Sibelius is English
Paarvo Jaarvi/Paris = very good if you think Sibelius is French / you love La Mer
Oramo/CBSO = very good but lacking tension
Colin Davis/LSO = solid but uninspiring
Colin Davis/BSO = good but rhythmically challenged/odd
Hughes/RPO = very good but too smooth/graceful

Bottom Tier:
Berglund/BSO = an oddity that doesn't ultimately work imo
Segerstam = technical fail
Sondergard = technical fail
Kamu = technical fail
Neeme Jaarvi = technical fail

Waiting Tier (not surveyed as yet)
Berglund/HPO =
Berglund/LPO =
Elder/Halle =
Bernstein/NYP =
Sakari/ISO =
Inkinen/NZSO =
Leaper/CHSP =
Volmer/ASO =
Storgards/BBCP =
Rozhdestvensky/USSR =
Maazel/PSO =
Collins/LSO =
Zehetmair/RNS =
Schneevoigt/FNO =
Schneevoigt/HPO =
Abravanel/USO =
Leaper/OFGC =
Beecham/RPO =
Rosbaud/WDR =
HVK on DG =
Very interesting, thank you, especially as I’m very fond of the enigmatic 6th. iirc Rattle recorded his Sibelius set quite early on his career and I found his Sibelius recordings with their clarity of line much better to my ears than his “everything pointed out” style with Mahler and Beethoven. I also like his approach with the Second Viennese School and recall his prom a while back when he played works by Berg, Webern and Schoenberg without a break, almost as one entity.
 

pmcuk

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At certain points it can sound like the orchestra is discordant or fighting itself or out of tune. The Segerstam and Kamu recordings in particular.
For me Segerstam is way above the rest. I base this on living in Norway for 6 years and touring the country extensively as a musician and also speaking the language and having a lot of social contact with a wide range of people. There's a definite atmosphere in Scandinavia, which is shaped a lot by the love of nature, the landscape and the weather, as well as the isolation of many of the communities and their rich cultural history.

I hear this in most of the Scandinavian conductors but not all of them - they get the atmosphere and have an instinctive feel of rightness. Without it you just get a mainstream symphonic rendering in the European style which doesn't interest me at all. Guys like Szell, Maazel, Bernstein don't even come close however much they ramp up the tension and excitement. Sibelius is so much more than that.

So peteAllen's list isn't anything I can share - I listen for other things and have other priorities. Sibelius divides opinions in any case, so this is nothing unexpected.
 

peteAllen

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For me Segerstam is way above the rest. I base this on living in Norway for 6 years and touring the country extensively as a musician and also speaking the language and having a lot of social contact with a wide range of people. There's a definite atmosphere in Scandinavia, which is shaped a lot by the love of nature, the landscape and the weather, as well as the isolation of many of the communities and their rich cultural history.

I hear this in most of the Scandinavian conductors but not all of them - they get the atmosphere and have an instinctive feel of rightness. Without it you just get a mainstream symphonic rendering in the European style which doesn't interest me at all. Guys like Szell, Maazel, Bernstein don't even come close however much they ramp up the tension and excitement. Sibelius is so much more than that.

So peteAllen's list isn't anything I can share - I listen for other things and have other priorities. Sibelius divides opinions in any case, so this is nothing unexpected.
Yeah I know what you mean. Vanska has a more Scandinavian approach, and I definitely agree with you on Segerstam. It's just that in this particular case, on this movement and recording, he and/or his orchestra were technically disappointing in my opinion, and this eliminated them for me. This is the big challenge when comparing against the LSO or other premier orchestras. I was surprised by both Jaarvis in that they didn't sound that authentic to me. I don't know much about Paarvi, but Neeme certainly spent a lot of time abroad, so I guess that explains it. Berglund seems perhaps a bit austere Scandinavian to me? Anyway, there are still a number of Scandinavians left on the waiting list, so there's still hopefully a recording that I really like that is also authentic.
 
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pmcuk

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You're probably thinking of Segerstam with the Helsinki PO. The recordings I have are with the Danish National SO.

I also don't like Berglund much, as you say no charm. There's a lot of love in Sibelius.
 

peteAllen

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@peteAllen You're missing the best of all; Saraste on RCA. ;)
Just been listening to this. Very fine performance. The only thing I really dislike is the acoustics. The violins sound thin and seem disconnected from the rest of the orchestra

I’ve also now listened to the Lenny recording (very compelling, exciting and charismatic) as well as the Elder/Halle which is quite extraordinary - a must hear imo - very intelligent

I’ll update my previous post later
 

peteAllen

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I've updated my review post. The two excellent additional discoveries were Segerstam/Danish Radio SO and Makela/Oslo Phil. The Makela might be my favourite. I'll have to do another comparison of my top finds to re-evaluate
 

pmcuk

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I've updated my review post. The two excellent additional discoveries were Segerstam/Danish Radio SO and Makela/Oslo Phil. The Makela might be my favourite. I'll have to do another comparison of my top finds to re-evaluate
I'm glad you like the Segerstam/Danish RSO. That's my go-to version. Excellent for those who don't think that Sibelius should sound like Mahler or West Side Story....

interesting that you use the word "sunny" for Segerstam. That's exactly right. Scandinavians fall in love with Summer and the joys of nature when the weather is warm and they can go hiking, boating and swimming. The joy of Summer is an absolutely essential part of Sibelius and everything Scandinavian. Just as the bleakness of winter is.
 
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peteAllen

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I'm glad you like the Segerstam/Danish RSO. That's my go-to version. Excellent for those who don't think that Sibelius should sound like Mahler or West Side Story....

interesting that you use the word "sunny" for Segerstam. That's exactly right. Scandinavians fall in love with Summer and the joys of nature when the weather is warm and they can go hiking, boating and swimming. The joy of Summer is an absolutely essential part of Sibelius and everything Scandinavian. Just as the bleakness of winter is.
The Makela recording is similarly sunny, but also with a lot of extra charm and joy, so I would recommend that to you. He’s only in his twenties. Seems like he is a rising talent, the Concertgebouw have even taken him on
 

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