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Sibelius: Symphonies 4 & 6

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Audio CD, October 25, 1990
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Simon Rattle
  • Composer: Sibelius
  • Audio CD (October 25, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: EMI Digital
  • ASIN: B00000DNII
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,548 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Moldyoldie on August 1, 2008
My earnest introduction to both of these great symphonies came right here on this CD when it was originally released in 1990. Here was Sibelius that immediately sounded radically different from the popular First, Second, and Fifth Symphonies. Gone were the heroic declarations and Late Romantic gushes, replaced by an introspection that was at times brooding and morose, at other times grudgingly optimistic. After hearing several other renditions over the years, I'll declare that Rattle and his Birmingham Orchestra have the full measure of both these works in interpretations that are thoroughly inside the idiom and performed with great sensitivity to nuance in tempo, dynamics and orchestral balance.

The Sixth is probably my current favorite symphony among the Sibelius Seven and I've yet to hear a performance of the Fourth that wasn't at least intriguing, but this same pairing in Paavo Berglund's most recent complete cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on the Finlandia label (Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6) sounds comparatively uninspired, leaden and pedantic next to Rattle's, despite incredible textural clarity and more current state-of-the-art sound. This EMI recording is also very fine with plenty of presence across the spectrum and a wide dynamic range -- the breathtaking pianissimos are whisper light! There are times when I would have preferred a more subdued or nuanced balance in louder tutti sections, but the clear bursts of brass in the Fourth Symphony are most affecting; the woodwinds in the Sixth are balanced subtly atop the strings in all the right places -- just the way I like it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Moore TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 12, 2011
Twenty-four years on, there is still every reason for recommending this recording to anyone who wants this particular coupling and perhaps already has celebrated versions by Karajan, Davis or Maazel of the more popular symphonies.

I will confess that I have never really got on with the strange, brooding, disjointed Fourth Symphony. It is my least favourite Sibelius symphony by a long shot. I find its austere modernity and the unresolved tensions of each movement as it fades into silence rather unsatisfying and disturbing, despite its incidental beauties, so I welcome with relief his return to an idiom I recognise and respond to much more readily in the vital moto perpetuo of the opening Allegro molto moderato movement in the Sixth. That more familiar Sibelian sound world continues with the chattering woodwinds and plangent, upsoaring string motif of the Allegretto moderato second movement.

The CBSO continue to be under-rated and play magnificently here; I rarely heard anything less than first-rate playing when I attended their concerts in the Birmingham Symphony Hall. The recorded sound is excellent; the Warwick Arts Centre was always a sympathetic venue when I attended concerts there, too, in the 80's and 90's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andrew R. Barnard on December 3, 2014
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I've wished for years that Rattle would release the Sibelius symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic, and the wish will soon be fulfilled thanks to the orchestra's new label. It was only natural for me to head back to Rattle's earlier readings with the CBSO as prep work. And it's clear that Rattle is a gifted Sibelian. In his younger years, he was less concerned with refinement and orchestral beauty. To be candid, the lower playing standards of the CBSO can keep readings from being completely successful, even when Rattle is inspired on the podium. Ironic of course, as today one can guarantee impeccable virtuosity from the Berliners on every last release.

So it's no fault of Rattle's that the thrust of the strings at the start of the 4th Symphony is a far cry from Karajan's chilling intensity. Rattle's not guilty of over-refining this music or making it too polite. He's willing to be fully aggressive. At times, I think he's a little too forward, not quite brooding enough. And outside of the orchestra, EMI's sound is rather distant, so the music doesn't unfold before your eyes. I wish it would. But this is interesting music-making, and the finale has great passion, Rattle superseding his limitations.

I want the 6th Symphony to open with a wide open, misty feel. Once again, the orchestra and sonics are restricting, though I also wish for more bittersweet tugging from Rattle. Detail, nuance, and virtuosity go a long way in Sibelius, and there aren't here. Again, the irony is striking; now that in Berlin, Rattle can consistently dominate the field in those qualities. As it is, this is an enjoyable reading, and Rattle's involvement can't be questioned, if it falls short of the greats.

This is an encouraging disc, reminding us why Rattle has a reputation for Sibelius.
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I rate this recording of Sibelius symphonies 4 & 6 by Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony five stars with slight reservations. Sir Simon is totally at home with Sibelius unlike some composers of the central European tradition such as Beethoven which are more problematic. Although not my top choice for the fourth it compares very favorably with the recording that is; that being Pietari Inkinen with the New Zealand Symphony on Naxos. As being an apparent native of Finland, Inkinen seems to bring a touch more authenticity to Sibelius as does his New Zealand orchestra which seems to identify very much with this composer. Also I like Inkinen's choice of tempo for the third movement largo which has a more natural flow and more forward momentum than does Rattle.
However Rattle's performance is not harmed by his more spacious approach which is very lovely in its own right. The timings of the other three movements between the two performances are within seconds of each other and so are not markedly different. Rattle's recording made in the late eighties was very fine for the time and still holds up well although the Inkinen from 2009 is noticeablybetter but not by a lot.

Rattle's sixth is at least equally fine to his fourth. None of the movements in this performance are any too languid but are given sufficient space to breath. The other sixth I own is by native Finnish conductor Petri Sakari with the Iceland Symphony on Naxos.Like Inkinen he seems to bring a grater degree of authenticity to this work than Rattle. Although the sound of the 2000 recording is somewhat better than Rattle's, The City of Birmingham Symphony is noticeably somewhat better than the Iceland Symphony.
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