This third of Sakari Oramo’s farewell Sibelius concert series with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra opened with Finlandia – curiously a very late addition to the programme, as if an obscure work had just been unearthed. It began here with a real snarl from the brass on their second bar forzando, suggesting Finnish resentment of their Russian oppressors and, more prosaically, that this was to be no routine performance. The hymn tune was simply and touchingly presented, as befits a prayerful moment and a tune with resonance far beyond the Baltic, frequently sung in the US on solemn occasions. The slightly coarser last section, cymbal bashing and all, made an enjoyably noisy conclusion.

Sakari Oramo
© Yanan Li

Not much less familiar is the Sibelius Violin Concerto, its prominence initially secured by a jaw-dropping 1935 recording by Jascha Heifetz and Sir Thomas Beecham, and since 1965 by the five-yearly Sibelius Violin Competition (where it is a required work in the final round). It has thus had several great exponents in every generation, but Lisa Batiashvili need fear no comparisons. She first played it in that competition at the age of sixteen (she was runner-up) and the conductor was a young Sakari Oramo – who was then a leading violinist who had played the concerto himself. They have played it several times since together and recorded it. Co-ordination in rehearsal can be hard work in this piece, so that joint experience doubtless helped produce this superb account from soloist and the orchestra, which has an unusually rich and engaged role in this work. Batiashvili was splendid in her first movement cadenza, evocative in the Adagio di molto and even made the weird whistling harmonics in the finale sound utterly natural. Her tone was immaculate, with only a light vibrato.

Lisa Batiashvili
© Yanan Li

The Fifth Symphony is one of the most popular of the seven and despite an oboe squeak at the start, the players soon settled into one of the great symphonic journeys. There was an especially noble transition for the modulation from E flat to B major (the bit when the sun bursts through the clouds) and on to the dancing 3/4 part of this 12/8 movement. Oramo paced this ideally, though the timpanist might have relished his rare fff marking more. Oramo certainly relished the exhilarating Presto – più presto coda, and his structural insight ensures ideal tempo relations between sections, so crucial in Sibelius.

In April 1915, Sibelius wrote in his diary: “Just before ten to eleven saw sixteen swans. One of my life’s great experiences. My God, what beauty. They circled over me for a long time, their cries the same woodwind timbre as cranes….The theme of the Fifth Symphony’s finale.” That finale indeed features the famous “swan motif” then conceived, first heard on the horns, whose role is central to this work’s sound world. But while the Fifth is certainly a heroic symphony, Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra here celebrated the great nature poet too. A fine Fifth, and a fine concert.

This concert was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream