After a three-year break since the recording of Sibelius' fourth and fifth symphonies (a very good effort - seeSibelius: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5), Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra reconvened in February and March of 2000 and set down what might just be the "best" recordings of symphonies 6 & 7, and a very good Tempest suite # 2.
Sibelius 6 was first performed in 1923 and is perhaps the most difficult of his symphonies to pull off on record. It's cool stuff, is Sibelius 6! Ravishing strings introduce the first theme and here, for once, the Icelanders sound just right - what a difference from their recording of 1 & 3 (seeSibelius: Symphony No1, Op39; Symphony in C No3, Op52! The excellent woodwinds benefit from Sakari's perfect pace, too. It's all exquisite and essential for any Sibelius collection. There is competition, of course, and professional critics highly rate Vanska Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 / Tapiola and Rattle Sibelius: Symphonies 1-7 [Box Set], although I have not heard the former and the latter only twice.
A year later, Sibelius published symphony 7, a disconsolate single movement work. Compared with just a few years before, the Iclander's string section outdo themselves in this symphony, I feel. This is a rather serious and sad work, coming at the tail end of Sibelius' output. A long silence followed this symphony until Sibelius died in 1957, at the ripe old age of 91, despite the vodka and cigars!
This Naxos CD also contains a very good performance of The Tempest suite # 2 to give a generous running time of 71'17".
Fine recordings and my only caveat is that the many tracks for the incidental music to The Tempest have been awkwardly placed between the two symphonies at each end. Why could we not have had both symphonies followed by The Tempest?