I have to admit to being a little bit disappointed when I listened to the fifth symphony after opening this box set. It's always been my favourite of the cycle. I've many recordings of it and I'm aware that the transitions of tempi in the first movement are notoriously difficult for conductors to gauge convincingly. Here, I was aware of rather clunky 'gear changes' which lacked the subtlety of a Karajan, Gibson or Colin Davis to name but three of this composers finest exponents.
And yet, as I continued my exploration of the set I found that Storgards seemed to be taking a more forensic approach to this music, an approach I'd not encountered before. When writing these reviews I always ask one question -does buying (yet another!) recording add anything to what I've heard before? This time, each occasion has revealed aspects of these scores I've not noticed. The strongest example, for me, being the bass lines are given greater prominence as if the dark sounds are leading the interpretation. The brass writing is revealed as being revolutionary and I'm sure other, later, composers must have copied (or been 'inspired' by) Sibelius's writing.
So often, the Sibelius symphonies are treated as an extension of Tchaikovsky, that is to say they have to be taken by the throat and have all their emotion wrung out of them whether they like it or not! In fact, listening to these fresh interpretations has made me realise what can be missing in others. To underline this, the BBC Philharmonic play extremely well for Stogards and whilst the recording quality isn't up to Chandos's best it's still very good.
The three 'fragments' are very short indeed and are a tantalising glimpse into a harmonic language that Sibelius might have developed in his Eighth symphony. Alas, we'll probably never know.