Related Reviews
The Times
4 Stars
Prom 6: 'Brilliant music, this; masterful music-making as well.'
more >>
The Arts Desk
Prom 6: 'The result was a moment of almost Mozartean elegance: clean, precise and quite, quite beautiful.'
more >>
BachTrack
4 Stars
Prom 6: '...the BBCNOW’s strings really shone in those moments of rich writing...'
more >>
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.'
more >>
The Independent
4 Stars
Prom 5: '...the BBC National Orchestra of Wales [was] in top form under Thomas Sondergard’s direction...'
more >>
BachTrack
4 Stars
Prom 5: '...a clean and ringing sound that rendered Sibelius' orchestral writing transparent but wonderfully warm.'
more >>
Limelight
'This project cycle should appeal to those who like their Sibelius cool, crisp and bracing.'
more >>
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.’
more >>
Fono Forum
5 Stars
,,Das ist kein bukolisches Rauschen nordischer Wälder, sondern eher ein Ausloten von Seelenlandschaften.''
more >>
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.'
more >>
Classical Candor
'Sondergard's rendering of it is, frankly, gorgeous, one of the most brilliant, moving performances I've heard.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
Classics Today France
4 Stars
'Qui veut un Sibelius bien enregistré en SACD multicanal trouvera ici un produit de choix.'
more >>
Audiophile Audition
4 Stars
'Two Sibelius gems superbly played and recorded.'
more >>
Sinfini Music
'[Sondergard's Seventh Symphony] feels nicely organic with some delectable moments of musical blossoming, not least towards the signature trombone solo.'
more >>
The Observer
4 Stars
'...intense and rigorous...'
more >>
Scene Magazine
'The immersive Nordic soundscapes of Jean Sibelius' aural world are immaculately rendered on this release from Linn.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
InfoDad
4 Stars
'An outstanding Symphony No. 2.'
more >>
The Sunday Times
'The BBC National Orchestra of Wales here shows itself to be in fine fettle, offering cogent, clear-textured performances.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
ResMusica
'Thomas Søndergård impose un Sibelius direct et franc du collier, simplement musical et granitique, mais qui s'avère inspiré et sain.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
AllMusic
5 Stars
'The comparatively lush orchestration of the Symphony No. 2 probably has never sounded better in any recorded format.'
more >>
BBC Music Magazine
'Thomas Søndergård has a deserved reputation as a fine conductor...there's also much deft and accurate detail...'
more >>

Thomas Sondergard - Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7 - Robert Music Blog


06 April 2015
Robert Music Blog
Robert Hutton

I hesitated for some time to purchase this new recording of the Sibelius second and seventh symphonies on Linn Records from Thomas Sondergard and the BBC Wales Orchestra because it got panned in a Gramophone magazine review - badly trashed, in fact, the review opening with the word "disappointing". 

There was a time when a classical recording literally lived or died on a Gramophone review. But my take on this new Sibelius is almost exactly the opposite of that review, and may be symptomatic of just how far the influence of Gramophone - and the quality of some reviews, from the current crop of 'reviewers', has fallen. It is quite true that a recording, and interpretation, can have widely differing impacts on people, accounting for a wide range of differences in reviews. However, there are also cases - more so today, and much more so in online reviews - where a review is just plain dead wrong, and cannot be excused by simply saying 'different people will hear it differently'. There ARE some absolutes, and this is a good case of that.

The Gramophone review claims muddy sound, particularly the timpani in the 7th, and recessed, reverberant sonics overall. The reviewer must have been listening through a 1930's horn gramophone while situated in a closet. That is simply not true, the acoustic is far from distant, it is quite clear and upfront, with amazing inner detail and nuance.The 24/192 sound is exemplary; demonstration quality in every respect. The dynamics on display here remind me that, in the analog era, conductors were quite conscious when recording of the limitations of the vinyl record in reproducing dynamics - true ppp would be obscured by surface noise, true fff caused the needle to jump out of the groove. To some extent this carried into the CD era. Now we are hearing recordings that have no such limitations.

I am no longer looking for "definitive" performances. For the most part, those have already been done long ago and are easily obtained. I am looking for interesting performances that offer an interesting point of view.  That is what I find here.

The performance of the 2nd is sublime. There are dozens of moments of subtle nuance, and the score unfolds organically, hanging together beautifully. If the climax at the finale - every work really has only one true climax - is the defining moment, Sondergard takes it wonderfully, bringing the work to what must be a transcendent exposition. Karajan is a reference point here, and Sondergard has much the same approach. Pacing overall is very similar to Karajan on both his Philharmonia and Berlin recordings, yet Sondergard has more of a feel of the Nordic wind at his back. Reminds me in many ways of the old Kamu on DG. 

Comparing to modern reference points - Songergard is vastly superior to the recent Storgards on Chandos, superior in every way to Vanska on Bis, which while well played, conveys a certain 'ordinariness' about it,  is in every way more idiomatic and better recorded than Jansons RCO reading, has also a big advantage in recording over Colin Davis on LSO Live and is also a better performance as Davis takes a broader view and has much less inner detail, and reaching a bit further back to Neeme Jarvi on DG - who takes a far too fast pace and seems rather blunt about it, again comes out more satisfying.

Going further back to the analog era - Karajan may well be king here, but Sondergard is much better recorded and doesn't suffer much in comparison. The Kamu on DG is hard to beat and essential. On Living Stereo there is the Monteux which is quite magisterial, but more Tchaikovsky than Sibelius. Szell was never really inside this work, Barbirolli is to me a reference point that Sondergard still holds up well in comparison to. From the digital era - Ashkenazy on Decca really doesn't get Sibeius other than the 3rd, Oramo on Erato is a fine reading but misses the subtelty of Songergard, Bernstein is a mess on DG as is Levine, and so on.

With regards to the 7th, here I was less convinced by Sondergard, feeling that Barbirolli is the real gold standard, as is Karajan. The performance seems a bit more episodic, less organic, unfolding less naturally. But still, it has a lot going for it. An excellent recording, a great deal of air and space which serves the piece well, and much detail to enjoy. It may not be a first choice, but is a very valid alternative.

So again - don't be dissuaded by one shitty Gramophone review. It is in my opinion completely wrong. I think this recording is outstanding performance-wise and a reference recording. I hope Linn will continue the series and I look forward to the next installment.


Bookmark and Share


Related Links

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