Unless he has designs on Kullervo, with numbers 4 & 6 Sir Mark Elder completes his Sibelius Symphony Cycle for the Hallé’s own label; superb performances that make me regret I have not yet heard the previous issues in this series. The bleak and tragic Symphony 4, Sibelius in pain, is also great music. Sir Mark digs deep into its dark side, expansively – this is a forty-minute-plus reading that is not a second too long and is gripping throughout, with much consideration given to line, detail and edgy emotion. Following which, and Elder gets #4’s ending spot-on – it stops rather than finishes – the “cold water” of Symphony 6 is a pick-me-up, albeit a wintery one, enigmatically and without obviousness – for ultimately this is pure music, a masterclass of economy and clarity – and ultimate is an Elder speciality for the work’s closing pages are magically distilled to extinction. Hallé CD HLL 7553.
There’s also a Debussy release from this long-standing partnership (Elder was appointed the Hallé’s music director in 1999), opening with the Three Nocturnes, brought off with painterly finesse, and continuing with Hallé principal clarinettist Sergio Castelló López weaving confiding and animated billets-doux in Première Rapsodie, after which comes the Marche écossaise (Debussy sporting a kilt). Before the cantata La Damoiselle élue, rapturous music with a heart-touching denouement, to a text adapted from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and featuring singers Sophie Bevan & Anna Stéphany and Hallé choirs (it should be noted that the words are not included in the booklet), is Colin Matthews’s very sympathetic orchestration of Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon (dedicated to “M. Tronquin”, Debussy’s coal merchant), and which proved to be the composer’s farewell to the piano; as scored by Matthews it is an exquisite three minutes. Hallé CD HLL 7552.
Excellent sound on both CDs, not least in capturing Elder’s use of antiphonal violins, a boon to all this music.