Sibelius’s Fourth is, for me, the most enigmatic symphony ever written. Both the second movement scherzo and finale trail off elliptically. Inkinen and his New Zealanders capture the intense bleakness of the first movement (described by one commentator as “groping in utter darkness in order to avoid the abyss, aided only by the occasional shaft of weak sunlight”). In the slow movement, the temperature drops to absolute zero – the subatomic particles simply stop vibrating – and here, these forces are up with the best.
In the finale, perhaps the strangest movement of all, Inkinen cleaves to the glockenspiel (instead of chimes), whose silvery sonority is, on the face of it, the most incongruous instrument Sibelius could have chosen: it can sometimes remind you of The Nutcracker, or even worse, Der Rosenkavalier. Not here, thank heavens!
I’m not quite as taken with the Fifth, although it has many fine features. Inkinen handles the gear change between the two halves of the first movement convincingly, but I think he baulks slightly at the great climaxes. In the coda at the end of the first movement, the brass doesn’t ring with quite the stentorian force that it does in Berlin (Karajan) or Philadelphia (Ormandy).
Similarly, in the finale, this reading falls just short of the essential elemental momentum. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed most of this CD, especially the luminous recording which captures a myriad of inner detail.