SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7 – BBC National Orch. of Wales/ Thomas Sondergard – Linn

SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7 –  BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Thomas Sondergard – Linn multichannel SACD LC11615, 62:00 (3/10/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Linn Records brings us this thrilling SACD of the Sibelius 2nd Symphony and the 7th Symphony in rich 5.1 multichannel sound.

The 2nd Symphony is probably the most familiar of the composer’s symphonies, and for good reason. It is rich with emotion and orchestral color. Composed in 1902, and conducted at its premier by the composer, it was originally associated with the struggle for Finnish independence, as it was written at the time that Finland was struggling against Russian sanctions. As far as I know, Sibelius never spoke to this program, so we don’t know if it is wishful thinking, myth, or the truth.

Whatever the program behind the symphony, it is a compelling musical experience. My previous favorite recording was with the LSO under Colin Davis, but this latest disc from Linn is easily the equal, and to my ear has more raw energy and exuberance from the players.

For his 7th Symphony, Sibelius dropped the common symphonic form from four movements to two. Many critics think the 7th is the composer’s most unique and lasting accomplishment. Sibelius finished the work in 1924, and it premiered in Stockholm as Fantasia Sinfonica No. 1. By 1925 the work was named the Symphony No. 7 in one movement. Although the composer was working on a Symphony No. 8, the 7th is one of his last major works.

Linn has its origins as a high-end audio equipment manufacturer, and it’s not often a hardware company gets into recordings, but the output of Linn Records has been positively noticed by critics and consumers. This disc is no exception. It presents a beautifully wide soundstage, superb definition of the instruments, wrapped up in a beautifully musical recording that really lets the unique sound of Sibelius enter your listening room. The surrounds are subdued with a hint of room ambiance, and there is a very sharp front image. The discrete subwoofer channel never overpowers, but it is there when the music calls for it.

The BBC Orchestra of Wales gets increasing acclaim, and it is well deserved. In addition to a busy concert season, it regularly records TV and film soundtracks. The combination of the BBC Orchestra, maestro Thomas Sondergard, and the music of Sibelius render something musically that is far greater than the individual parts.  Highly recommended!

—Mel Martin

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