BBCSO/Oramo – review

Barbican, London

Sakari Oramo was music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony for nine years, yet in all that time he never made a guest appearance with any of the London orchestras. He's now in charge of both the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the Finnish Radio Symphony, but was persuaded to make his debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra to launch its cycle of the Sibelius symphonies.

Yet, as if to prove that his enthusiasm for British music hasn't faded with his return to Scandinavia, Oramo began his programme with Bax, a performance of the symphonic poem Tintagel that was strikingly muscular and sharply defined rhythmically, with many examples of the hushed refinement that was such a feature of the BBCSO's playing throughout the evening. A new work followed – the British premiere of Kaija Saariaho's four Leino Songs, which were written for Oramo's wife, the soprano Anu Komsi. Using quiet, intimate poems by Eino Leino, they are Saariaho's first settings of Finnish words (previous works, including all her operas, have texts in French), and they seem beautifully tailored to the delicate strength of Komsi's voice, clothing the vocal lines in shifting orchestral iridescence.

The Sibelius symphony that ended the programme was the Third, presented by Oramo in brisk, bold paragraphs that worked to a wonderfully definitive climax. But before it, Komsi was the soloist in one of Sibelius's most perfect masterpieces, Luonnotar. A setting of the Kalevala creation myth, involving the daughter of nature and a duck's egg, it possibly offers a glimpse of what a mature opera by Sibelius might have been like. Komsi delivered it with such theatricality and soaring, dazzling intensity, though it seemed to inhabit a unique world all of its own.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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