Minnesota Orchestra — Image via minnesotaorchestra.org

Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4

Minnesota Orchestra Conducted by Osmo Vänskä

The Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä received much acclaim for their recent recording of Jean Sibelius’s second and fifth symphonies, which are among the composer’s most popular works. For their second Sibelius recording, the orchestra and Vänskä have taken on the less familiar first and fourth symphonies, turning out performances that showcase the strengths they have built up during their decade together.

Minnesota Orchestra: Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 4 — Image via qualiton.comThe first symphony is by far the more accessible of the two. The Minnesota rendition gets off to a strong start with Burt Hara’s haunting clarinet solo, introducing an energetic first movement that takes advantage of the orchestra’s massive dynamic range. As a whole, the recording seems to highlight the contrasts between the symphony’s moments of romantic lushness, reminiscent of Tchaikovsky, and sections that show the way to the more austere style Sibelius pursued in his later works.

Austerity is probably the defining characteristic of the fourth symphony, with its two unabashedly grim slow movements and two somewhat livelier fast movements that both die out inconclusively. Vänskä takes an uncompromising approach to this dark and foreboding music, conveying its emotional nuances without ever trying to pretend that the overall mood is anything other than bleak. Again, the solo sections are highlights, particularly Anthony Ross’s cello solo in the first movement.

At this point, the Minnesota Orchestra musicians have been locked out for more than six months after refusing to accept a deeply concessionary contract proposal. It is very much an open question whether they will be able to complete their Sibelius recording cycle and otherwise continue their fruitful performing and recording partnership with Vänskä. Their achievements on this recording stand as a reminder of what the Twin Cities have to lose if the current situation cannot be resolved in a way that respects the talent and dedication of the musicians.

Archival orchestra photo by Greg Helgeson

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.

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