There is a rumour that Jean Sibelius’ third symphony is the least interesting of the seven he wrote. Pffff. Nonsense slander. For my part, it is one of my favourites. I find it utterly delightful, even if it is less resplendent than the previous one, and less profound than the next. It is made up of melodies that linger in the memory and benefits from a sober but fleshed-out orchestration. One is charmed by the touching melody of its Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto (2nd mvt), a phrase that will stay with you for a long time, like a soothing melancholic echo, a kind of Nordic saudade. Fans of Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings will be delighted by the last two minutes of the first movement, and the lively pastorality of the final Moderato adequately recapitulates the basic material of the whole and illuminates it with a particularly satisfying playfulness. Yannick is a thoughtful chiseller and effectively brings out the work’s play of light and shade. This recording was already available in digital form only, and has been since autumn 2021. The novelty lies rather in the Fourth Symphony, which is a different matter altogether. Its scattered lines seem to be constantly in need of a thematic grip and its harmonic greyness makes it generally disquieting and mysterious, except for certain passages where the light dares to pierce the misty veil (as in the 2nd movement, which is more fertile in this respect). Yet this is an absolute masterpiece. Certainly one of the most daring symphonies of its time, created two years before Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Here again, Yannick is in his element, with the emphasis on the clarity of the lines, but also the individual expressiveness of the numerous solo passages. His chamber vision is fortunately supported by a sustained attention to the sonic breadth of his musicians. The powerful Tempo largo (3rd movement), with its solemnly funereal character, is particularly successful. Thus, no dryness, as we have sometimes heard for this music, which is certainly complex and learned, but not devoid of emotions and aesthetic impulses. This is a very fine release, and another milestone in the complete Sibelius oeuvre led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with his Montreal musicians.
Released on 3 March 2023 on all platforms