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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 7 CD

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Audio CD (12 Nov. 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Ondine
  • ASIN: B00006K07T
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 375,995 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Andante Ma Non Troppo - Allegro Energico
  2. Andante (Ma Non Troppo Lento)
  3. Scherzo. Allegro
  4. Finale (Quassi Una Fantasia) - Andante - Allegro Molto
  5. Symphony No. 7 in C major

Product Description

Review

Editors Choice --Gramophone

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Format: Audio CD
Is this the start of a new Sibelius series from Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, on Ondine? I sure do hope so! Based on just this single recording, such a cycle would "go to the top" as far as this particular Sibelius fan is concerned.
By any "standard" measure (number of recordings, time spent listening to the music, extracurricular reading about the composer, etc.), Sibelius fits comfortably in my personal "top 10" list of composers. In fact, I already number among my collection of Sibelius symphonies three complete sets (those by Vladimir Ashkenazy, on Decca, Sir Colin Davis, on Philips, and Petri Sakari, on Naxos), plus "partial" sets from a host of other conductors. What I never have had – and apparently neither has Ondine, the "official" Finnish record label – is a traversal of these works by a Finnish conductor leading a Finnish orchestra.
In the recent past, I have been very impressed by two Ondine releases of Sibelius's music: a set of tone poems with the young Mikko Franck conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a different anthology of tone poems and suites drawn from "The Tempest" with Leif Segerstam conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Based on that small sample, I would have been happy had either maestro been given the symphony cycle assignment. Having now heard this recording of the First and Seventh Symphonies, I must say though that, in retrospect, I'm glad the assignment (if in fact this is the beginning of such a cycle) went to Segerstam.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9c1922b8) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c14812c) out of 5 stars Definitive? Well, I happen to think so. 8 April 2003
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Is this the start of a new Sibelius series from Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, on Ondine? I sure do hope so! Based on just this single recording, such a cycle would "go to the top" as far as this particular Sibelius fan is concerned.

By any "standard" measure (number of recordings, time spent listening to the music, extracurricular reading about the composer, etc.), Sibelius fits comfortably in my personal "top 10" list of composers. In fact, I already number among my collection of Sibelius symphonies three complete sets (those by Vladimir Ashkenazy, on Decca, Sir Colin Davis, on Philips, and Petri Sakari, on Naxos), plus "partial" sets from a host of other conductors. What I never have had - and apparently neither has Ondine, the "official" Finnish record label - is a traversal of these works by a Finnish conductor leading a Finnish orchestra.

In the recent past, I have been very impressed by two Ondine releases of Sibelius's music (and commented on them in appropriately glowing terms elsewhere at Amazon.com): a set of tone poems with the young Mikko Franck conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a different anthology of tone poems and suites drawn from "The Tempest" with Leif Segerstam conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Based on that small sample, I would have been happy had either maestro been given the symphony cycle assignment. Having now heard this recording of the First and Seventh Symphonies, I must say though that, in retrospect, I'm glad the assignment (if in fact this is the beginning of such a cycle) went to Segerstam. In each work, Segerstam provides an interpretation that is beautifully nuanced and full of felicitous details, and presumably authoritative, with an orchestra that has this music in its bones, and with recorded sound that is simply superlative in its clarity of detail, dynamic range and "naturalness."

Sibelius's First Symphony has long been a personal favorite of mine. While others have put forth a "conventional wisdom" that the work is a compositional extension of Tchaikovsky, I've never been able to buy into that argument. (Interestingly, my previous favorite interpretation had been that of Ashkenazy. Go figure!) To me, the work always came across as truly original, sui generis to a fault, and totally Nordic rather than Slavic.

Right from the opening bars of the first movement, with a beautifully-voiced clarinet solo above rolling timpani, I felt as if I was hearing this work "at last, for the first time," promising me a superlative performance yet to come. Segerstam's handling of the little details - the balance and contrast of dynamics, the nicely-chosen rubatos (the little ebbs and flows to the tempi), the individualistic sounds of the various instrumental choirs in the orchestra, the ultra-crisp timpani strokes, even the balance that permits the harp to be heard within loud passages - is simply perfect, right up to the nicely-spaced final two string pizzicato notes ending the movement.

The succeeding movements are at the same high level of excellence. In the second movement, Segerstam nicely adjusts the orchestral dynamics so that even the tuba, in the fortissimo passages, is given a prominence that seems perfect and at the same time unique, a detail seldom heard in other recordings. The timpani strokes that accent the third-movement Scherzo are very prominent, and crisply detailed, to an extent I've never heard before. The fourth movement opens at a nicely "grave" pace. As before, even in loud passages, every instrument - even, again, the harp - can clearly be heard. The final closing bars of the work are taken at a steadiness of pace that befits the conclusion yet, again, is seldom heard in other performances, where changes in tempo (in either direction) can tend to spoil the effect.

A simple "tale of the tape" (comparative timings) is unable to shed any light on the uniqueness of Segerstam's performance here. He is within seconds, movement-by-movement, of the Sakari performance on Naxos, and exceedingly close to Ashkenazy, on Decca, for all but the second movement. The secret clearly lies with what Segerstam does with the small details and the way he permits the rubatos to flow naturally in the course of the work. Magic!

While the First Symphony, at Op. 39, can hardly be considered "juvenilia," the Seventh Symphony (Op. 105), written very late in Sibelius's compositional life, is in a different world in terms of its compositional aesthetic and, to an extent, its sound-world. Leaner and more austere by far, its single movement unfolds with stunning logic; an architectural masterpiece. Despite changes in tempi which suggest that Sibelius initially thought of this work in terms of three separate movements followed by a concluding Epilogue, the Symphony nonetheless has a discernable "long arc" to it that can readily be lost - or at best rendered illogical - in a mediocre interpretation.

Clearly, Segerstam has the "measure" of this work as few others do. His sense of orchestral balance, from top to bottom and from instrumental choir to choir, is superb, and his control of dynamics and tempi, and "microadjustments" to these tempi, let the work's intrinsic logic flow naturally, right up to the concluding chorale (which is not "overplalyed" for dramatic effect as it all too often is).

At "full price," Segerstam's Sibelius on Ondine is hardly inexpensive, and at some tens of seconds less than 60 minutes this CD can hardly be called "jam-packed" with music. Just ask yourself what your priorities are: Do you want "music on the cheap" or do you want one of the finest Sibelius albums released in recent years, recorded in stunning sound? I know my my answer, and I eagerly await the next installment in this superb symphonic cycle.

Bob Zeidler
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is the best recording of the 7th symphony around and the 1st symphony has to be one of the only "burning through the bone". What I know of the mighty Helsinki Philharmonic is that they are Sibelius-orchestra #1 with vigorous tradition towards their "house-composer", Jean Sibelius. Having heard this orchestra live two times with maestro Segerstam conducting I have to say it is #1 Sibelius-orchestra in the world. Inspiration and vision in Segerstam flows easily and he clearly understands the metalevels on these accounts. The best buy in the market right now.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Anonymous - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I own more than 30 recordings of Sibelius's Seventh Symphony. OK, I guess I am a little nuts about this particular work. I can say with confidence that this recording of the Seventh Symphony is both the best played and the best recorded I have ever heard. The Helsinki Philharmonic is more familiar with this music that most orchestras (earlier recordings with Beecham, Watanabe and Berglund are available), and this shows through in many moments which in most recordings sound a little odd, but here sound thorougly convincing. The sound throughout is very close, enabling many details (such as some superb timpani playing) to be heard much more clearly than usual. Segerstam's interpretation is fine. Thoroughly recommended.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c0381ec) out of 5 stars Marvellous! 14 May 2006
By Pater Ecstaticus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I often grab my music on a hunch. Often because I am curious about a conductor. I have heard of Leif Segerstam's Mahler cycle on Chandos, and I saw that many people are not charmed by his conducting idiosyncrasies. So I thought: I may like this conductor!
Anyhow, I already knew I loved Sibelius. Combined with the fact that these Sibelius recordings are on the Ondine-label (generally very good performances and sound - take for example the gorgeous Strauss album by Soile Isokoski!), and the fact that the orchestra is Finnish - indeed the very same orchestra which premiered many of Sibelius' works, conducted by the composer himself - made me eager to buy and listen to these performances.
And it has been one of those 'happy discoveries', I must say. Although I must confess that I have not heard much Sibelius by others yet - I am only somewhat familiar with the Vladimir Ashkenazy/Philharmonia Orchestra cycle, so that is in many ways my reference point -, I believe that these performances by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leif Segerstam are at least as good as the magnificent, full-blooded Ashkenazy. Where there is warmth and full-bloodedness of playing with the Vladimir Ashkenazy, the same is true for this set of recordings with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, but combined with IMHO even greater beauty and crispness of playing (as well as clearer definition of the instruments and instrument groups within the sound picture).
Segerstam and his orchestra bring a crispness and an alertness to the playing and phrasing which causes - at least to this particular listener - a spine tingling sensation. But this has also to do with the recording as such, which must be well-nigh perfect for this (stereophonic CD) format. The balancing of the instruments is some of the best I have heard, making all of the instruments sound clearly defined, all taking pride of place beside the others, while placed within a perfectly 'natural' and crystal clear sound picture, in which one is able to distinguish the finest instrumental details, but just right to my ears: the details are never drowned out, but at the same time there is 'natural' cohesion of sound and playing. To my very amateur ears, almost perfect.
To round up then, I would like to characterize these recordings as full-blooded and intense, but at the same time with spine tingling crispness and alertness of playing. I couldn't comment on any 'interpretational idiosyncrasies' of Leif Segerstam on these recordings, because I can't read music, but to me it all sounds completely natural and utterly convincing. The nobility, extacy and vision become almost tangible here ...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1485d0) out of 5 stars I'll make it an even 10 5-star reviews 19 April 2015
By John K. Gayley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I won't repeat what others have written....all true and better said than I could do. I came late to segerstam's Sibelius but it has been truly rewarding. I got his rendition of the 7th along with David Hurwitz book on Sibelius and branched out after being blown away by it. It's certainly in the top 3 versions I've heard if not the best. I also really like his 3rd and 5th.

But wait...there's more! Try his lemminkainen legends op22 and Tapiola on Ondine...amazing! His Ondine CD with the Tempest suites also is a standout. Heck he even makes that old horse "finlandia" sound like its the first time you've heard it. I have unlimited respect for what he's brought to Sibelius on Ondine. Highly recommended.
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