It’s been a while since the name of Owain Arwel Hughes (born 1942, he turns eighty shortly) has come my way; yet some investigation finds that he continues to hold appointments with Camerata Wales, the Welsh Proms, and at the University of Wales. Away from the principality in June last year, he was in London at St John’s Smith Square to record this pair of Sibelius Symphonies, which follows a Rubicon coupling with him of numbers One and Three (which I have not heard and in fact do not have).

This second volume, all eighty-seven minutes of it, is really quite impressive, very well recorded – dynamic and clear – by Phil Rowlands and produced with typical attention to high-end results by Andrew Keener. Hughes’s conducting of the Second Symphony is expansive but impassioned and directionally assured, the RPO playing with unanimity, dedication and ardour, finely detailed. One might have liked a little more impetus in the first movement, and also in the Scherzo, although the oboe/cello Trio of the latter is quite lovely; whereas the second movement, which can sprawl, is taut and dramatic, while the Finale, led into momentously, avoids pomposity without diluting grandeur and triumph.

Following the stirring Second we are plunged into the great if disturbing Fourth. This is not the darkest of accounts but there is a tangible emotional urgency that sustains the listener, and which also retains the music’s enigma. The especially edgy second movement is a highlight, and if the slow third (Il tempo largo) is maybe not expansive enough (cf. Karajan and Vänskä) then the players’ concentration is palpable, so too the increasing desolation expressed … a well-timed attacca takes us into the Finale (with glockenspiel – yes, this seems to have been Sibelius’s preference when scoring for the ambiguous “Glocken” – but ‘colder’ bells are preferable, as demonstrated for examples by Ansermet, Colin Davis and Maazel) and which Hughes sustains effectively at a moderate tempo and increasing tension to an unflinching dissonant climax and a numbed aftermath.

Rubicon RCD1072. Presumably the remaining three Symphonies will follow, maybe on one disc.