There tend to be two general types of Sibelius conductors -- those who emphasize the drama and incident, and those who focus more on architecture and the Sibelian orchestral sound. Inkinen is clearly of the latter persuasion. In his earlier Sibelius recordings -- Sibelius: Night Ride & Sunrise; Belshazzar's Feast; Kuolema & Sibelius: Scenes Historiques I & II / King Christian Ii -- this was the case. But when I heard those CDs it didn't strike me quite so clearly, largely because those lighter pieces and tone poems are typically episodic in structure. Sibelius's symphonies are rather more classically structured however, although with a great deal of meandering as well, and in these performances one hears that brought out; I'm guessing that was precisely Inkinen's intent. Further, rather than emphasizing the 'big moments' in these works, Inkinen goes more for timbral richness in a rather thoughtful, even gentle fashion. And it works. Actually the Sibelius interpreter he most reminds me of is from older times: Kajanus Symphony 1 / Tapiola & Symphnies 3 & 5; both recordings are now out of print, only available for rather a lot of money here at Amazon.
Because Inkinen emphasizes Sibelius's structure, the composer's growth is all the more noticeable when one contrasts the First Symphony with the Third. The latter shows us more of what we have come to think of as 'typical' Sibelius. It is less obviously nationalistic than the First and the structural daring, brought out by Inkinen, is considerably more to the fore. For instance, the key signature of the slow second movement is in G Sharp Minor, a far cry from the symphony's nominal home key, C Major.
There is little question that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is a very good ensemble and they certainly have Sibelius's style in their bones. In an earlier review I commented that Sibelius has been a particular favorite in New Zealand and that the best-known twentieth-century composer from New Zealand, Douglas Lilburn, wrote much music that sounds for all the world like it had come from Sibelius's pen. Inkinen of course, being a Finn, also knows his way around Sibelius. Together conductor and orchestra have given us treasurable performances. This is the first of what will be a series comprising all of Sibelius's symphonies. We will likely be the richer for it.