Christian Sinding is famous for being famous for his hugely effective and stirring piano piece Frühlingsrauschen, which seems to have fallen out of favor as an encore the last couple of years. His many large scale works have never manage to establish themselves outside of Norway (and frankly not even there), and it is not too hard to hear why. Neither of his four symphonies here are quite comparable to the Svendsen symphonies, say and they also showcase the fact that Sinding's development as a composer was something of a decline from youthful freshness to rather generic, Wagnerian late-romanticism. Thus, for instance, the first symphony is clearly his best, and even that one not quite as impressive as, say, his piano quintet from the early 1880s.
The first symphony, in d minor, was written in 1892 and is actually a very appealing work. It has a nice forward momentum and splendid, soaring themes somewhat reminiscent of his Russian contemporaries (Glazunov, say), although the character is more of a mix of Grieg/Svendsen and Schumann. It is, in general, a breezy, cheeky work with a beautiful slow movement and an attractive Vivace - even the finale works well at bringing the various strands together in a convincing whole. It is a rather inspired work, well constructed although a little heavily orchestrated - indeed, if I were to compare Sinding to, say, Svendsen, one of the most obvious things is how much lighter and airier the latter is; Sinding's music is, at times, a little heavy and indigestible.
It is not really a problem in the first symphony, which is fresh and inventive enough, but the second symphony suffers a little. Stylistically, Schumann is still present, but Wagner is a more pronounced model, and it doesn't really work for Sinding. Thus, the first movement never really takes flight and the second movement, while beautiful enough, sounds very generically Romantic. Only in the finale does things pick up a little; here there is some energy and momentum and even some genuine inspiration. But overall this is not a work I will return to very often.
I haven't heard any alternative performances (there is at least a set from CPO out there), but I cannot really hear anything to complain about from the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Ari Rasilainin. Maybe the orchestral sound is a little thin, but they sound spirited enough and Rasilainen has a good grasp of the music and is able to play up its strengths. Sound quality is unremarkable but fair enough. In sum, then, I think the adventurous who doesn't set the standards to high will be amply rewarded, but I do not really think you'll loose much by passing it by either (if you instead secure yourself a version of the superior Svendsen symphonies). As for the final verdict, I am a little torn - the first symphony is a really appealing work. Maybe (but I hope not) I am swayed by the fact that another reviewer here has given it a top grade when I choose to give this issue 3 rather than 4 stars.