Sibelius: Tone Poems / Petri Sakari, Iceland So

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Petri Sakari knows this music, obviously loves it, and paces it to perfection. Indeed, his performance of The Bard may just be the finest available, particularly in the work's latter stages and final climax. The dark timbres of the lower winds--bass clarinet and bassoon particularly--not only add immeasurably to the atmosphere that colors the opening of Pohjola's Daughter, but also help to create the deep currents of The Oceanides and overshadow the pine forests of Tapiola. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra plays with complete security, and Sakari ensures that textures and balances retain the necessary transparency without sacrificing power. Indeed, the all-important bass drum part in En Saga seldom has registered with such dynamic accuracy (though as with all of these Naxos productions, make sure to turn the volume up to enjoy the best sound).

That said, there is one big fly in this particular musical ointment. The Iceland orchestra has a comparatively small string section, and while this fact certainly contributes to the clarity noted above, it robs the climaxes of sheer heft. This is particularly true during the headlong rush to the big cymbal crash in En Saga, the huge final wave in The Oceanides, and above all the great storm music in Tapiola. To his credit, Sakari doesn't push his players beyond their natural ability. For example, in Tapiola he cleverly ensures that the storm remains a background to the ferocious eruptions in the brass and timpani, but it's still impossible not to feel the lack in those moments (such as the ensuing dissonant shriek) where a big string sound is absolutely essential.

So is this disc recommendable? Certainly it is. But if you are one of those people whose preferences in this music demand Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic strings, you might be happier elsewhere. Still, there's far too much worth hearing to dismiss this issue for that reason alone. Sakari and his players capture the music's dark colors and primal qualities as do few others, and when all is said and done they offer a quintessentially Sibelian listening experience.
--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8555299

  • UPC: 747313529926

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius

  • Conductor: Petri Sakari

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Iceland Symphony Orchestra