Santtu-Matias Rouvali & GSO - Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 & En Saga - The Arts Desk

Though his Symphony No 1 is another hot-headed, romantic work, and Santuu-Matias Rouvali’s new account looks on paper as if it's one of the slower, more indulgent ones. This isn't the case, the timings merely reflecting Rouvali's flexible tempi. The lonely clarinet solo is daringly spacious, though the movement's main body is perfectly paced. Rouvali’s love for the music never smothers it, the occasional expressive tweaks perfectly judged, such as the snarling, swelling brass chords at two minutes 40. Not sure if they're marked to be played like that in the score, but the effect is thrilling. He also underlines how many elements of Sibelius's mature music are already present in this early masterpiece: sustained pedal notes and woodwinds in thirds are all here. And how Rouvali handles the movement’s coda. I consulted my thesaurus but couldn't come up with anything more apposite than “sizzling”. It's that sort of performance.

The storm whipped up in the slow movement rivals that in Tapiola. There's more sizzling in the scherzo, and the sprawling finale doesn’t feel a note too long.  As a coupling, there's a brassy, extrovert performance of En Saga, every bit as gripping as the symphony. Unmissable, and the best Sibelius recording I've heard in ages. You'll think so too. The cover photo is priceless.

The Arts Desk
16 March 2019