08 Sibelius 25Sibelius 2 & 5
Orchestre Metropolitain de Montréal; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2453 (atmaclassique.com/en)

In the right hands Sibelius’ symphonic work can be extremely exciting. Yannick Nézet-Séguin can lay claim to being one of the most penetrating Sibelians in modern times. He may be less Romantic than some – Osmo Vänskä, for instance – but his understanding of the composer goes way beyond abstraction. His 2019 Symphony No.1 was amongst the most stirring ever recorded, while on this recording of Nos. 2 & 5 he brings the kind of visceral engagement that forces you to listen afresh.

Symphony No.2 (1901), one of the most popular in the cycle, marks the transition between the youthful and the more mature Sibelius. The Russian influence is replaced by something more southern in feeling: themes and textures are more open, and the general atmosphere is one of warmth. But a mood of foreboding soon emerges at the start of the second movement, with a theme inspired by Don Juan being confronted by the figure of Death. 

Symphony No.5, experienced here, certainly lives up to its reputation as one of Sibelius’ most original reworkings of the symphonic form. During its dramatic (1919) revision he merged the first and second movements with a transitional passage that miraculously glides from one into the other. So heroic is the grand finale that it is aptly described as the swinging of Thor’s hammer. 

Nézet-Séguin and Orchestre Métropolitan de Montréal traverse both symphonies with exhilarating power and energy.

Editor’s Note: One of the most lauded conductors of his generation, Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin received the highest designation conferred by Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music on April 17 when he was inducted as an Honorary Fellow (FRCMT) of the organization.

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