Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Kamu – review

Cadogan Hall, London

Finland's Lahti Symphony Orchestra seized and retains its special place in the musical cosmos as a result of its outstanding Sibelius recordings during the 20-year tenure of Osmo Vänskä as principal conductor, which ended in 2008. Since 2011, the Lahti orchestra has been headed by Okko Kamu, once the 1970s golden boy of Finnish conducting. Amazingly, this Cadogan Hall concert under Kamu was the orchestra's first London date outside the Proms. Perhaps inevitably, Sibelius monopolised the evening. Less forgivably, the Lahti programme stuck to three absolutely mainstream Sibelius works – the Karelia suite, the Violin Concerto and the Fifth Symphony – all indisputably important pieces, of course, but all extremely familiar to London audiences. It was only with the encores, a Polka for strings and two flutes and the 1905 Cortege, heavily Russian influenced, that we went off the well-beaten track.

The trademark balance and clarity of the Lahti orchestra was instantly apparent in the shimmering string figures which begin the Karelia suite, in which a breeze seemed to rustle through the notes. Perhaps because of the small size of the hall, Kamu only let the full orchestra off the leash very rarely, which suited Elina Vähälä's austere yet always gripping account of the Violin Concerto. But Kamu also brings a heartier quality to Sibelius, which gave a real rhythmic drive to the final movements of both suite and concerto, pushing Vähälä to some thrilling and unerringly precise playing in the latter.

The Fifth Symphony was best of all. It combined the sheer pleasure of hearing a Finnish orchestra's authentic Sibelius sound with Kamu's own readiness to push things along with a touch of danger. The collective acceleration into the closing bars of the opening movement was spine-tingling, the wind solos of the middle movement a credit to all concerned, and the finale had all the ecstatic momentum one could wish.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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