Related Reviews
The Times
4 Stars
Prom 6: 'Brilliant music, this; masterful music-making as well.'
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BachTrack
4 Stars
Prom 6: '...the BBCNOW’s strings really shone in those moments of rich writing...'
more >>
The Arts Desk
Prom 6: 'The result was a moment of almost Mozartean elegance: clean, precise and quite, quite beautiful.'
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The Telegraph
4 Stars
Prom 6: '...in Søndegård’s hands the bombast seemed radiant, and moving.'
more >>
Evening Standard
4 Stars
Prom 5: '...there was a strong sense of the organic growth that makes this compact work so mysterious.'
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The Independent
4 Stars
Prom 5: '...the BBC National Orchestra of Wales [was] in top form under Thomas Sondergard’s direction...'
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BachTrack
4 Stars
Prom 5: '...a clean and ringing sound that rendered Sibelius' orchestral writing transparent but wonderfully warm.'
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Limelight
'This project cycle should appeal to those who like their Sibelius cool, crisp and bracing.'
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Gramophone
'Another disc with a live feel, this Sibelius coupling with the BBC NOW under Thomas Søndergård will bring out the best in any well-matched [hi-fi] set-up.’
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Fono Forum
5 Stars
,,Das ist kein bukolisches Rauschen nordischer Wälder, sondern eher ein Ausloten von Seelenlandschaften.''
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Klassik
5 Stars
Audiophiles Highlight: 'Das ist kein bukolisches Rauschen nordischer Wälder, sondern eher ein Ausloten von Seelenlandschaften. Das verklärte En de des Werks stellt daher nicht nur das zu erwartende frohe Ende dar, es scheint vielmehr fast eine Art Erlösung zu symbo lisieren.'
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Applaus
'Das ist die perfekte CD für Sibelius-Einsteiger wie auch für den Kenner, der schon Referenzaufnahmen im Regal stehen hat, denn es stimmt alles: der ganz spezifische Klang in perfekter Balance, die Tempi, die Spannungsbögen.'
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Classics Today
4½ Stars
'Søndergård gets it right...if this is the first disc in a planned cycle, it looks like it's going to be a very good one.'
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Classics Today France
4 Stars
'Qui veut un Sibelius bien enregistré en SACD multicanal trouvera ici un produit de choix.'
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Audiophile Audition
4 Stars
'Two Sibelius gems superbly played and recorded.'
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Sinfini Music
'[Sondergard's Seventh Symphony] feels nicely organic with some delectable moments of musical blossoming, not least towards the signature trombone solo.'
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The Observer
4 Stars
'...intense and rigorous...'
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Scene Magazine
'The immersive Nordic soundscapes of Jean Sibelius' aural world are immaculately rendered on this release from Linn.'
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Pizzicato
4 Stars
'Thomas Sondergard gives Sibelius's Second Symphony a very expressive character, while the Seventh is deeply reflective. Excellent playing by the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales. The recorded sound matches the excellence of the performances.'
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Robert Music Blog
'The performance of the 2nd is sublime.'
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InfoDad
4 Stars
'An outstanding Symphony No. 2.'
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The Sunday Times
'The BBC National Orchestra of Wales here shows itself to be in fine fettle, offering cogent, clear-textured performances.'
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Politiken
4 Stars
'[Sondergard] livtag med Sibelius’ 2. Symfoni matcher nogle af de bedste...Kombinationen af klarhed, varme og Sibelius’ svimlende symfoniske vidder, som de langsomt samler sig i symfoniens stadig større, bjergtagende landskabsagtige panoreringer, er flot.'
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Herald Scotland
'I can only welcome, with fast-beating heart, one of the great new Sibelian teams into the record business with the debut recording on Linn Records of Sibelius's Second and Seventh Symphonies by Thomas Sondergard and his BBC National Orchestra of Wales.'
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ResMusica
'Thomas Søndergård impose un Sibelius direct et franc du collier, simplement musical et granitique, mais qui s'avère inspiré et sain.'
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The Telegraph
4 Stars
'The BBC NOW, recorded in the warm, clear acoustics of the Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, responds keenly to the way that Søndergård subtly controls aspects of tempo, instrumental balance and the shifting of mood to create a genuine sense of the music's organically conceived nature.'
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AllMusic
5 Stars
'The comparatively lush orchestration of the Symphony No. 2 probably has never sounded better in any recorded format.'
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BBC Music Magazine
'Thomas Søndergård has a deserved reputation as a fine conductor...there's also much deft and accurate detail...'
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Thomas Sondergard - Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7 - Classical Candor


10 May 2015
Classical Candor
John J. Puccio

If the number of releases in the CD catalogue is any indication, Sibelius's first two symphonies remain his most popular, with No. 2 taking a slight edge. This is no doubt why most conductors begin their Sibelius symphony recording cycles with one of the first two works, which is what Maestro Thomas Sondergard and his BBC National Orchestra of Wales do here, giving the Second a fairly lively, and welcome, reading. With room left over, the little Seventh Symphony is also a welcome delight.

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) wrote his Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43 in 1902, and the listening public quickly dubbed it his "Symphony of Independence," although no one is sure whether Sibelius really intended any symbolic significance in the piece. Even so, it ends in a gloriously victorious finale that surely draws out a feeling of freedom and self-reliance from the music. The piece begins in a generally sunny style, though, then builds to a powerful a climax, with a flock of heroic fanfares thrown in for good measure.

Sondergard takes all four movements more quickly than do the conductors on any of the half dozen recordings I had on hand for comparison, yet his tempi are not at all breathless. Indeed, his handling of the faster sections of the first movement is fleet and agile, the change-ups smooth and entirely natural. When he pauses momentarily, when he increases the volume, when he goes into a hushed whisper, or whatever, it is with purpose; and that purpose always seems to be in the service of the music. With evenly tuned transitions from warm to cool and back, Sondergard's interpretation places the first movement among the best you will find.

The second movement Sibelius marked as an Andante (moderately slow) and ma rubato (with a flexible tempo) to allow conductors more personal expression. The movement begins with a distant drumroll, followed by a pizzicato section for cellos and basses. Under Sondergard this slow movement is appropriately somber, yet he imbues the music with a degree of comfortable affection, too, so it's not entirely melancholy. And again, Sondergard ensures that when he reaches the intense middle section, it doesn't appear to be coming out of nowhere but is intrinsic to the rest of the music.

Sibelius makes the third movement a scherzo, one that provides a dazzling display of orchestral pyrotechnics, interrupted from time to time by a slower, more melancholy theme. The whole thing should bounce around from an admirable liveliness to a more pastoral theme, then a stormy midsection, and a tranquil conclusion. This fast movement is sort of the opposite in structure of the preceding movement: instead of two slow sections enclosing a fast one, we get two fast sections surrounding a slow one. Sondergard generates a good deal of enthusiasm throughout this segment, keeping both the orchestra and the audience on their toes.

In closing, the final movement bursts forth in explosive radiance--both thrilling and patriotic. When the third movement glides directly into the fourth, Sondergard might have increased the horsepower just a bit more, highlighting the heroics. Instead, he is content to let the music speak effortlessly for itself, and perhaps he was right in doing so. He makes a rather eloquent statement by eschewing a certain degree of exaggeration. In the final analysis, Sondergard's treatment of Sibelius's Second Symphony is one of the best (and best sounding) you'll find.

Completed in 1924 the Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105, was Sibelius's final published symphony. It is notable for being in a single, relatively brief movement. For its first performance, he called it Fantasia sinfonica No. 1, a "symphonic fantasy." It was only a year later, when he actually published it, that he decided he would simply call it his Symphony No. 7. Whatever, the composer said he wanted to express in it a "joy of life and vitality with appassionato sections." To that extent, Sondergard takes him at his word.

One movement or not, the music flows structurally as a symphony might, just with more seamless continuity and cogency. Sondergard's rendering of it is, frankly, gorgeous, one of the most brilliant, moving performances I've heard. As with the previous work, the conductor fashions it all of a piece, with nothing that doesn't perfectly belong. And throughout all of this music, the orchestra adds a rich, polished luster to the proceedings. It's quite becoming.

Producer and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the symphonies in stereo and multichannel at BBC Hoddinot Hall, Ckardiff, UK in March 2014. Linn Records released the hybrid SACD for both SACD stereo and multichannel and regular CD stereo playback. I listened to the SACD two-channel stereo layer.

The sound has a nice airy quality, with a lifelike dimensionality about it. You can hear the orchestra not only from side to side in a realistic spread but front to back as though actually sitting in the audience in a concert hall. This is typical, though, of Linn Records, who usually do their utmost to make listeners feel as though the event were live and the ensemble were actually there in front of you. Dynamics, frequency response, impact, and overall clarity are also quite good, with the hall itself lending a modest resonance to the occasion.

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Related Links

BBC National Orchestra of WalesBBC National Orchestra of Wales
Thomas SondergardThomas Sondergard
Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7