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CD booklet
Sibelius 1

November 21, 2019

Le sette Sinfonie di Sibelius hanno un posto di tutto rilievo nel Repertorio orchestrale tra fine Ottocento e inizio Novecento. La Sinfonia n. 1 op. 39 (composta nel 1898 e poi più volte riveduta sino al 1900) costituisce il primo capitolo di un’esperienza creativa dai tratti molto interessanti anche perché controversi, nel segno di un’originalità e un impulso alla sperimentazione che si mantengono tuttavia decisamente distanti dalle istanze moderniste. Allo scorcio dell’Ottocento la fiducia di Sibelius nelle intatte potenzialità della sinfonia come rappresentazione e per così dire narrazione musicale di ampio respiro si coglie sin dalla Sinfonia n. 1 e l’interpretazione di Yannick Nézet-Séguin lavora sugli aspetti formali ed espressivi della partitura cercando di metterne in luce Con efficacia di estiti l’originalità (molto evidente per esempio nella struttura a mo’ di libera fantasia, ma intessuta di ritorni tematici, del finale). Il linguaggio sinfonico intenso e appassionato della sinfonia appare così risolto con grande brillantezza anche grazie alla risposta duttile e morbida dell’orchestra ma anche sul filo di una capacità di analisi e quindi di ricomposizione sintetica che trova nell’atto della concertazione il naturale prolungamento e compimento. La degna focalizzazione su alcuni dettagli della struttura e dell’orchestrazione non è mai in contrasto con una condotta tanto scorrevole da lasciar pensare addirittura in molti passaggi alla freschezza di un’esecuzione dal vivo.

Cesare Fertonani – Amadeus Magazine 

La Scena musicale
May 30, 2019

After a triumphant European tour Nézet-Séguin and the OM will travel to New York and Chicago next season to showcase their long and productive partnership. Their latest recording is something of a surprise: NézetSéguin is not known for his interest in Sibelius. But as one might expect, he gets right to the heart of the music. From the haunting opening bars and an eloquent solo from clarinetist Simon Aldrich, there is no doubt that this is inspired music-making. As in the Bruckner symphonies, one of the challenges facing conductors is how to transition through the pauses without losing concentration. But as in his excellent Bruckner recordings, Nézet-Séguin is masterful in making it all hang together in Sibelius. Climaxes are resonant and powerful but never merely noisy. The Orchestre Métropolitain offers superlative playing throughout. Two caveats: perhaps it is the fault of the engineers, but in several places in the score, the first violins sound overwhelmed. And with only 41 minutes of music on this CD – 60 plus minutes is the norm these days, with many CDs offering.

Paul Robinson - La Scena musicale

Voix des Arts
May 2, 2019

It is unlikely that any serious musician pursuing a career in North America has escaped being regaled with the adage that stipulates that the path to New York City’s Carnegie Hall, revered as a sort of Mecca for concert artists, is peregrinated with practice, practice, practice. The peril of conventional wisdom is that it is often more conventional than wise, but few musicians with genuine affection for their work would contradict the assertion that, even for artists with extraordinary natural talent, the only true means of achieving greatness is a continuous process of honing, refining, and renewing one’s craft.

Assessing artists’ significance is an inherently subjective undertaking, but there are finite criteria that determine an instrumentalist’s qualification for consideration. Any piece of music presents its own unique challenges, and a musician’s technical proficiency either is or is not equal to the music’s demands. There are also appraisable aspects of a conductor’s artistry, among which baton technique is perhaps the most visible, but evaluation of a conductor’s importance is affected to an even greater extent than analysis of an instrumentalist’s noteworthiness by intrepretive acuity.

A professional orchestra deserving of that designation can maintain musical integrity without the guidance of a conductor, but the reputation of the personage on the podium is founded upon subtleties that are perceived and esteemed differently by each listener. The physical dimension of conducting notwithstanding, a conductor’s success is innately ephemeral. Colloquially, it might be said that the proof of a conductor’s merit is in the hearing. Hearing this ATMA Classique recording of Jean Sibelius’s First Symphony, expertly engineered to faithfully reproduce the rich acoustic of Montréal’s Maison symphonique, is a gratifyingly visceral experience. The performance exudes a vitality that is achieved in the recording studio only by a conductor who respects the music and commands the respect of his musical collaborators. Are those not two crucial measures of a conductor’s artistic value?

At an age at which some of the most admired conductors of previous generations essentially remained apprentices, Québécois conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has built a career that has already encompassed leadership positions with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Metropolitan Opera, with the last of which institutions he is completing his first season as Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director with performances of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. It is in his capacity as Music and Artistic Director of his native city’s Orchestre Métropolitain that he leads this performance of Sibelius’s Opus 39 Symphony No. 1 in E minor.

Nézet-Séguin has been fortunate to inherit from his predecessors resilient orchestras, and his effective, nurturing direction has bolstered the standards of excellence achieved by Orchestre Métropolitain. The performance on this disc conveys an engrossing sense of occasion, orchestral balances meticulously matched to the music and the space in which it was recorded. The understated rhythmic precision that has become a hallmark of Nézet-Séguin’s conducting is particularly apparent in this performance: at the core of even the most rhapsodic passages is a robust beat that intensifies the continuity of the conductor’s handling of this score.

Born in the Finnish city of Hämeenlinna in 1865, the ethnically Swedish Sibelius would ultimately become the globally-recognized ambassador for Finnish music and the Finnish people’s quest for absolute cultural and political autonomy from czarist Russia. Like many Scandinavian musicians, Sibelius received a musical education that was strongly influenced by the Teutonic tradition of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann—a tradition in which the symphony was the principal mode of large-scaled orchestral expression.

Completed when the composer was thirty-three years old, the first of Sibelius’s seven symphonies was premièred by the Helsinki Philharmonic in 1899. Exhibiting the stark judgment of his own work later epitomized by his relative avoidance of composition during the final three decades of his life, Sibelius substantially revised the score after the first performance and may have destroyed the original manuscript, which has never resurfaced. His six subsequent works in the form would further develop Sibelius’s singular voice as a symphonist, but his inaugural effort established him as a peer of Bruckner and Brahms.

With a duration of 12:25, Nézet-Séguin’s traversal of the symphony’s opening movement is unusually expansive, but his pacing facilitates both exceptional clarity in the realizations of Sibelius’s orchestral textures and striking contrasts among the majestic fanfares for brass and percussion, the gossamer figurations for the strings and harp, the latter beautifully played by Danièle Habel, and the playful, almost rustic writing for the woodwinds. The plaintively meandering clarinet solo that introduces the Andante, ma non troppo passage is thoughtfully phrased by Orchestre Métropolitain’s principal clarinetist, Simon Aldrich, and his colleagues in all sections of the orchestra deliver their solos with unfluctuating musicality. The transition to the movement’s Allegro energico section is intelligently navigated by the conductor and zestfully executed by the orchestra.

An atmosphere of impending misfortune permeates the start of the Andante, ma non troppo lento movement, but, sensitive to the momentum generated by Sibelius’s thematic metamorphoses, Nézet-Séguin does not surrender to tragedy. Rather, he conjures a tonal environment in which moments of mystery are resolved by bursts of melody. His is a notably optimistic reading of the piece: whilst wholly respecting the fundamental structure of the movement, he emphasizes the expressive significance of the brightness that penetrates the music’s gloom, finding more excitement than angst in the agitation that propels the movement to its tranquil conclusion, which in this performance suggests a cathartic moment of relief after a grave emotional struggle.

In comparison with similar movements in the symphonies of other consequential contributors to the genre, Sibelius’s Allegro Scherzo is especially unconventional. This Scherzo is anything but the expected jocular episode: the disquiet of the preceding movement returns, only temporarily abated, infusing the music with an oppressive uncertainty. The orchestra’s opulent but astonishingly transparent sound potently imparts the distress that haunts the music, but here, too, Nézet-Séguin pursues a course that circumvents unequivocal desolation. His approach to this music is uncommonly attentive to the fact that, as surely in music as in nature, shadows cannot exist without light. The Orchestre Métropolitain’s playing echoes this conviction, lending the ambiguous stretto an undertone of hesitant contentment.

Marked ‘quasi una fantasia’ by Sibelius, the symphony’s Finale undulates from an initial Andante through a progression of tempi and temperaments that recapitulates the dramatic journey of the previous movements with ambivalence reminiscent of the final movements of Mahler’s symphonies. Nézet-Séguin’s management of the lyrical effusions spotlights the kinship between Sibelius’s and Tchaikovsky’s orchestral writing. In this performance, the brief but meaningful silences that punctuate the symphony’s last pages are staggeringly jarring. The conductor employs these abrupt interruptions in the narrative’s dénouement as opportunities for aural palate-cleansing, preparing the listener for the movement’s terminal trajectory. Even with the portentous din of the percussion, the symphony seems not to truly end but merely to stop. Instead of imposing a speculatory resolution upon the music, Nézet-Séguin leaves the impression of the symphony’s final movement being a flow of thought that exhausts and then pauses to replenish its musical resources.

Since Robert Kajanus, who conducted the first performance of Sibelius’s revision of the First Symphony in 1900, recorded the work with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1930, this score has presented listeners with difficult choices. This is a piece that affirms that the notion of any interpreter or performance being the ‘greatest of all time’ is as stupid in music as in sports. The composer having appreciated the young conductor’s earliest recordings of his music, Herbert von Karajan’s Deutsche Grammophon account of the First Symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker has long enjoyed exalted status, but dozens of challengers have widened and complicated the symphony’s discography. It is fatuous to argue that this or any recording of Sibelius’s First Symphony is definitive, but this performance and its conductor wield greatness very persuasively. 

© Joseph Newsome - Voix des arts

La Presse +
April 15, 2019

4 étoiles sur 5
Yannick Nézet-Séguin dirige la Symphonie no 1 de Jean Sibelius op. 39, exécutée par l’Orchestre Métropolitain (OM) et enregistrée sous étiquette ATMA classique. Composée à la toute fin du XIXe siècle, cette œuvre incarne le postromantisme finlandais, marqué par les musiques russe, allemande ou française de l’époque ayant précédé celle-ci ; on pense notamment à Tchaïkovski (surtout), à Rimski-Korsakov, Wagner, Bruckner, Berlioz... Force est d’observer que l’Orchestre métropolitain poursuit sur la lancée qui l’a mené à un niveau manifestement supérieur depuis sa tournée internationale en 2017. Chacun des quatre mouvements de l’œuvre est superbement exécuté, à partir du solo de clarinette de Simon Aldrich dans le premier mouvement Andante, ma non troppo-Allegro energico, jusqu’au Finale (quasi una fantasia) : Andante-Allegro molto, qui bourgeonne et éclate à la manière d’une irruption collective. L’OM et Nézet-Séguin parviennent à illustrer les grands espaces nordiques évoqués dans la partition, à mettre en valeur l’écriture consacrée aux vents (surtout les bois), à rendre fidèlement la théâtralité des timbres graves, à illustrer les nuances et à magnifier les crescendos. On pourrait discuter de la longueur de cette seule matière au menu de l’album, soit 41 minutes et 6 secondes, et déplorer qu’une seconde œuvre n’ait pas été adjointe au plat de résistance. Mais cela ne diminue en rien la qualité d’exécution et la clarté orchestrale induite par l’OM et son chef.

— Alain Brunet, La Presse 

ICI Musique
April 12, 2019

ATMA classique a choisi de nous faire redécouvrir, à travers une série de parutions, les symphonies de l’un des compositeurs nordiques les plus célèbres, le Finlandais Jean Sibelius. Qui de mieux que le charismatique Yannick Nézet-Séguin et l’Orchestre métropolitain pour lancer le bal?

La Première symphonie de Sibelius dure une quarantaine de minutes. En musique classique, on se déplace rarement pour un programme aussi bref; c’est un moment qui passe en un clignement d’yeux. Lors de concerts, on jumelle souvent l’œuvre avec une autre symphonie, ou avec d’autres pièces qui servent d’amuse-bouche. En revanche, sur disque, la première de Sibelius a tout le mérite qu’il faut pour se tenir à elle seule. Nous sommes ici dans les débuts de l’œuvre du compositeur. Il faut savoir que Sibelius – un être tourmenté par des problèmes d’alcool et d’argent au cours de sa vie – crée cette musique à l’époque où la Finlande est dans le processus de s’affirmer comme pays indépendant (ça se fera en 1917). Le contexte a donc beaucoup inspiré Sibelius dans son œuvre. En retour, le compositeur a contribué, à l'époque, à définir l’identité culturelle du pays.

Son héritage musical s’inscrit dans les traditions symphoniques russe de la fin du 19e siècle et du début du 20e, notamment Tchaïkovski, Rimski-Korsakov et Rachmaninov. Mais laissons ces comparaisons et ces analyses aux fines oreilles. Ce qu’une oreille non avertie retiendra, c’est surtout une musique qui travaille l’imaginaire et l’émotivité de l’auditeur. La musique de Sibelius, bien qu’elle soit fort savante, demeure tout aussi accessible. On constate dans cette Première symphonie un ensemble cohérent. Étrangement, cette cohérence naît de la juxtaposition de textures musicales contrastantes. Chacun pourra donc en retenir un sentiment unique. Les uns seront remués par la tension-détente romantique et les allures quasi wagnériennes du premier mouvement (Andante ma non troppo - Allegro energico), les autres pourront se laisser frissonner devant la délicatesse du second mouvement ou encore se surprendre à se bercer et à battre délicatement la mesure enivrante du Scherzo.

La symbiose entre Nézet-Séguin et son orchestre ne fait aucun doute. Il faudrait être plus que pointilleux pour relever des défauts dans cet enregistrement. Ensuite, on peut critiquer les choix de tempi, de dynamiques, de phrasés si le cœur nous en dit… ou plutôt si la tête nous en dit. Mais à quoi bon? L’analyse intellectuelle nous empêche parfois d’accéder à l’émotion qui sous-tend la composition. L’excellence a de quoi impressionner, mais l'exécution parfaite se doit d’être habitée d’une passion. La passion contagieuse, c’est une des spécialités du chef Nézet-Séguin, et la Première symphonie de Sibelius en devient ici un excellent véhicule.

Nathan LeLièvre - ICI Musique

Medium large
April 12, 2019

« L'Orchestre montre ici une étonnante maîtrise du langage romantique de Jean Sibelius.»
Frederic Lambert qui commente l'album Sibelius 1 avec l'Orchestre Métropolitain et Yannick Nezet-Seguin à Médium large.

Full review in French :