Pietari Inkinen maintains the high standards he has achieved with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and their distinguished Sibelius cycle. However, the competition is much stronger here (Karajan, Järvi, etc) and I don’t think I’m able to give quite as unqualified an endorsement to the performance as the previous release (Symphonies 4 and 5).
Nonetheless, the results are impressive. At just over 44 minutes, tempi are splendidly central (it’s hard to believe the great Sibelius conductor Kajanus got through it in 39’!) but what impresses me most about the reading is the articulation of the strings and both the alert playing
of the woodwinds and the way the engineers have captured it.
The work was said to have been partly inspired while Sibelius was visiting Italy and there’s certainly plenty of Mediterranean warmth once the first movement gets going, and in the trio of the quicksilver scherzo.
Perhaps it helps to be Finnish but Inkinen seems to judge this music unerringly and maintains the odd arctic chill amid the pastoral charm. He doesn’t over-egg the pudding either in the final brass peroration, which can sound laboured if too drawn out, but maintains a convincing intensity.
The Karelia suite was one of the first pieces of classical music I discovered and to this day, the clarinet arabesques still give me a frisson. It’s probably Sibelius’s most charming work. The first movement became famous when used to introduce telecasts of Australia’s (ultimately) successful bid for the America’s Cup in 1983. This is the most laidback performance I’ve ever heard and is none the worse for that. This is definitely a CD worth investigating.