I've been an enormously enthusiastic admirer of the Halle/Elder CDs that have been coming out over the last years. However, this isn't one that I can get so excited about. The two tone-poems - the relatively early Pohjola's Daughter and the later 'Oceanides' - are truly splendid versions., being studio recordings made some years back. they have the authentic Sibelian wildness in abundance. But the symphony is a different matter, and more than anything this is down to the recording. On the face of it, the sound is good; but as the music progresses, it becomes clear that a great deal of important detail is either inaudible or nearly covered by other elements. An early example comes about 2 mins 30 secs into the first movement (track 3), where Sibelius introduces an important new idea - one of his typical themes that starts with a sustained note, then breaks into a flurry of shorter notes. It is presented in high woodwind, but they disappear under the over-heavy string accompaniment. There are many such examples throughout the work.
Bad recording balance isn't the only problem; I don't believe Elder really has the pacing of this work sorted out. A glaring example is the exaggeratedly broad tempo for the oboe theme in the scherzo, just far too slow. Then the build-up to the finale struggles to achieve momentum, wih the result that, when the great 3/2 theme arrives, there is a calamitous sense of anti-climax. What was all the fuss-and-to-do about?, you feel like saying. The finale, having started so poorly, never gets off the ground.
So the whole performance hangs fire; there is some wonderful individual playing, but this performance represents neither conductor nor orchestra at their best. I hope Elder will consider recording it again in the studio at some point.
The CD is worth having, nonetheless, for the two wonderful tone-poem readings.