May 2008

Sibelius - Scènes historiques I & II; King Christian II Suite
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Pietari Inkinen cond.
Naxos 8.570068
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Pietari Inkinen is the latest pupil of the Finnish conductor Jorma Panula to create a hugely positive buzz worldwide (among earlier ones: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Mikko Franck). Inkinen, 28, who had lessons also from Leif Segerstam, has conducted recently in Toronto, Ottawa and Cincinnati, as well as all over Europe (in opera as well as concerts) and Asia, has more American dates lined up, and is about to begin his tenure as music director of the New Zealand SO. He has already begun recording in Wellington, and this release tells us clearly and powerfully what all the excitement is about.

Even more impressive than the uniform excellence of so many Panula pupils, perhaps, is that there is nothing uniform in the way they go about conducting. Panula has not only equipped them to transmit the energy of their conviction to their musicians, but has somehow seen to it that each of them is able to do it in his or her own way. These relatively seldom heard works are perhaps not Sibelius at his greatest, but they are by no means insubstantial, and there are memorable moments in all of them, particularly as presented here. Everything is alive with the excitement of fresh discovery, fairly brimming over with vitality, intensity and spontaneity -- though Inkinen’s subtle control makes sure there is no danger of blowing a fuse.

In sum, this is terrific music-making, and Naxos has come through with vivid, spacious, beautifully balanced sound. If you don’t know this music, there could be no happier introduction to it; and if you do, you may actually treasure this release all the more. It certainly creates high expectations for what may follow from this source. (Next up, recent works of Einojuhani Rautavaara.)