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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 (1893-96, rev. 1897, 1900 & 1939)1 [46:19]
No. 1 Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island [15:52]
No. 3 Lemminkäinen in Tuonela [14:47]
No. 2 The Swan of Tuonela [8:52]
No. 4 Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey [6:32]
Spring Song, Op. 16 (1894, rev. 1895) [9:03]
Suite from Belshazzar's Feast, Op. 51 (1906-1907)2 [15:55]
I. Oriental March [3:11]
II. Solitude [3:37]
III. Nocturne [4:50]
IV. Khadra’s Dance [4:15]
Alison Teale (cor anglais)1, Igor Yuzefovich (violin)1, Michael Cox (flute)2, James Burke (clarinet)2, Norbert Blume (viola)1,2, Susan Monks (cello) 1,2
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. 2018, Watford Colosseum, UK
Reviewed as a stereo 24/48 Studio download from
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN20136 [71:34]

There was much to celebrate on Sibelius’s 150th birthday in 2015. Among my highlights was a splendid set of all seven symphonies from Okko Kamu and the Lahti SO (BIS). Not surprisingly, that was one of my top picks that year. Then there was an album of Sibelius’s piano music, played on the composer’s Steinway by Folke Gräsbeck; Jens Braun’s fine recording deserves a mention, too (BIS). Of course, the Swedish label has a good track record as far as Sibelius is concerned, their mammoth Complete Edition a must-have for all Sibelians. Most recently, I admired the first instalment of what could be another big project, this time from Alpha: Symphony No. 1 and En Saga, with the Gothenburg orchestra conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali. Brian Wilson recommended that, and reading his review of this Oramo selection my interest was well and truly piqued. The same team’s earlier recording of works by Florent Schmitt turned out to be rather good, which surely augurs well for this new release.

Indeed, listening to Oramo’s Lemminkäinen Suite - he reverses the order of the two middle sections - I was very impressed by the body and blend of sound he coaxes from his orchestra, the players clearly at ease with themselves and the music. There’s plenty of momentum as well, with tempi and phrasing nicely judged. As for those distinctive Sibelian climaxes, they’re all the more powerful for being properly scaled and sensibly - yet thrillingly - recorded. More important, I was bowled over by the vitality and fine detail of Oramo’s reading, both qualities that tend to suffer when sheer weight is prioritised at the expense of the music’s inner workings. Then again, there’s so much to relish here. Just sample the scurrying figures and the glorious bass drum that punctuates ‘Lemminkäinen in Tuonela’. As for the solos, they’re well taken, cellist Susan Monks warmly eloquent in ‘The Swan of Tuonela’. Of course, Neil Pemberton and Rob Winter’s judicious, realistically balanced recording plays its part, too. For instance, the liquid tones of Alison Teale’s cor anglais are most naturally - and beautifully - rendered. Lemminkäinen's triumphant return, perfectly paced, with just enough jaunt, rounds off a thoroughly rewarding performance.

Spring Song finds Oramo and his players at their pliant and poetic best, with silken strings and a lovely orchestral blush. Really, I can’t remember when I last heard the BBC Symphony play with such radiance or pure sense of purpose, Oramo a sure and steady guide throughout. (An inspiring one, too.) The final piece, the incidental music Sibelius wrote for Hjalmar Johan Fredrik Procopé’s play, Belshazzar’s Feast, is no less of a treat. The ‘Oriental March’ is brisk and buoyant, and the solos in ‘Solitude’ and ‘Nocturne’ are exquisitely done. Remarkably, there’s a raptness here that one associates more with a live concert than a studio session. As for ‘Khadra's Dance’, I doubt you’ll hear a more affectionate and wonderfully aerated performance than this, the dark gurgle of James Burke’s clarinet superbly caught.

For the sake of comparison I dug out Osmo Vänskä’s Lahti Lemminkäinen and Neeme Järvi’s Gothenburg Belshazzar, on BIS-1745 and BIS-1912 respectively. With Oramo’s Sibelius still fresh in my mind, I was struck anew by how meticulously Vänskä constructs his performances, layer by layer, creating a large, imposing soundscape in the process. That has its place, certainly, but the more I listened the more I longed for the many insights - epiphanies, even - that Oramo, so transparently played and recorded, brings out at every turn. Alas, the Järvi seems inexplicably dull next to this very revealing and atmospheric newcomer. In his review, Brian suggested Oramo’s Sibelius compares favourably with the competition. I feel it does rather more than that. In fact, Oramo and his orchestra refresh and illuminate this repertoire in ways I’d scarcely thought possible. And what higher praise can I give than that?

Seductively sonorous Sibelius, brimming with colour and character; very impressive recording, too.

Dan Morgan

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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