This is a personal blog, after all, so we’re taking things a little differently for this edition of The Friday Five: five symphonies that should be on your list for the weekend and some suggested recordings. If you’re on Spotify, you can subscribe to the playlist here.
1. Symphony no. 2 in D Major (op. 43) by Jean Sibelius: There are a lot of things to be said about this work. While scholars debate whether this work was meant to be an anthem to independence of Finland from Russia (the finale does have a point), this work paints a picture of the Finnish landscape. Its opening movement is lyrical, its second movement is hauntingly beautiful, and its third and fourth movements are grand. If you have dry eyes after listening to the finale, then you’ve been doing something wrong. (Suggested recording: Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä, along with Sibelius Symphony no. 5, recorded 2011 on the BIS label, BIS-SACD-1986)
2. Symphony no. 36 in C Major “Linz” by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: While Mozart’s symphonies nos. 25, 40, and 41 might be played more, we are rather partial to Mozart’s Symphony no. 36. It’s your standard late edition Mozart symphony. Still, though, it’s full of youthful charm and energy. Pay attention to the trio of the menuet: it’s a favorite. (Suggested recording: Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste, along with Symphonies nos. 32, 39, and 41; recorded 2011 on the Virgin Classics label, Virgin 96370)
3. Symphony no. 2 “Mysterious Mountain” by Alan Hovhaness: Perhaps not a symphony in the four-movement Classical style, this is more of a programmatic work. Two movements with unusual time signatures surround a lovely double fugue, of which Alan Hovhaness was perhaps the best contemporary composer of the fugue format. (Suggested recording: American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, along with Hovhaness’s Lousadzak and Lou Harrison’s Elegiac symphony, re-released 2008 on the Nimbus label, Nimbus 2512)
4. Symphony no. 4 in f minor (op. 36) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: A staple of the Classical repertory, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Tchaikovsky 4 should be a staple of anyone’s Classical library. Few recordings match the artistic excellence presented here. The third movement is a lively scherzo with pizzicato (plucked) strings. Just be sure to reduce your volume before the fourth movement starts! (Suggested recording: San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, on the Keeping Score series, released 2010 on the SFS Media label, SFS Media 30)
5. Symphony no. 1 by Henri Dutilleux: With apologies to Monty Python, this comes from the and now for something completely different file. M. Dutilleux passed away last year and his works cemented himself as the composer par excellence of French classical music in the late 20th century. His Symphony no. 1 is something very different, indeed: a four-bar motif sets the stage for the first movement passacaglia, the third movement has a theme but is introduced well into the movement, and the fourth moment starts with grand fanfare that sounds an awful lot like something from Messaien’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. You’ll have to take my word on this one. (Suggested recording: Seattle Symphony conducted by Ludovic Morlot, along with Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain and The Shadows of Time, released 2014 on the Seattle Symphony label, Seattle Symphony 1001)