Violinist Tami Pohjola and conductor Taavi Oramo are two young Finnish musicians who have been establishing high reputations in their native country and who have now made their debuts with The Hallé in Manchester. The one Finnish work on the programme was Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor – always popular with audiences but demanding for performers. Do Finnish musicians have a special affinity with this music? It seemed so here as this was a stunning performance. On the other hand, Sibelius’ music has been central to The Hallé’s repertoire since it was new and must be in their collective blood as well.

Tami Pohjola
© Tom Stephens

The concerto begins with a mysterious stillness from which the violin soloist emerges; from the very first notes I was transported to a magical place where time seemed to stand still and only the music mattered. Oramo ensured that the orchestra created a beautifully rich background against which Pohjola’s violin shone and sparkled. She had a rich, individual voice which led us through all the concerto's varied moods. There was a remarkable confidence and independence in her playing which drew us into this special world. Her virtuosity was always at the service of the music and her rapport with the conductor and orchestra was palpable. 

Unusually the concert included two overtures, one at the start of each half, by two rarely performed 19th-century female composers. Both were for fairly large early Romantic orchestras (double woodwinds) and were free-standing pieces, not preludes to an opera or other stage works. The concert began with Fanny Mendelssohn’s accomplished Overture in C major. It was dramatic and melodious and showed some of the lightness and delicacy we associate with her brother. It was given an assured performance by Oramo and the orchestra who brought out its surges of feeling. All in all, a lovely piece that deserves many more performances.

Taavi Oramo
© Tom Stephens

Louise Farrenc was born a year before Fanny Mendelssohn but was able to engage in music in a professional capacity to an extent that her contemporary was not. She became Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatoire, a post she held for 30 years, as well as composing and publishing. However, the fate of her Overture no. 1 in E minor which opened the second half of the concert mirrored that of Fanny Mendelssohn's. Both had to wait 160 years for their first modern performances (in 2000 and 1992 respectively). Farrenc’s is a very impressive and enjoyable piece, sometimes bringing Beethoven to mind. Oramo highlighted many of the wind solos which were played with aplomb.

The concert concluded with Felix Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, a glorious evocation of the warm south so attractive to many writers, artists and musicians from Northern Europe in the 19th century. If Sibelius’ Violin Concerto evoked northern, misty landscapes, the Mendelssohn conjured up cloudless skies, bright light, sun-drenched towns, warmth and exuberance. Oramo made sure that the symphony never dragged. There was a lightness of touch that bounced along especially in the first and fourth movements while the inner movements were smooth and reflective. The final saltarello brought us to a vigorous, rousing conclusion.