Sakari Oramo’s final concert after thirteen years as Chief Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra concluded his four-concert Sibelius cycle, with Symphonies Six and Seven. In between there was an extra Sibelius item, and this time, after Luonnotar and the Violin Concerto in concerts three and four, it was a novelty.

Sakari Oramo
© Yanan Li

Alongside his symphonies, Sibelius frequently produced smaller pieces, which did not need the long gestation of his larger works. His ten-minute Op.77 of 1916 are the Two Pieces for Violin (or cello) and with orchestra or piano. Here we heard the cello and orchestra version, the solo played by the orchestra’s Principal Cello Johannes Rostamo. The first piece, Cantique, was a passionately soulful lament, while the second, Devotion, had more incident and colour, its restlessness hinting at the world of the symphonies. Rather more than potboilers then, and played with exquisite tone and phrasing by Rostamo.

Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

For the Sixth Symphony, the composer added, to the instruments used in the Fifth, a harp, a third trumpet and a bass clarinet. That last is there mainly for colour, as the Sixth seems a bass-light work for much of its length. This is especially so at the start, when the first and second violins, here placed either side of the podium and both divided into two parts, weave a serene polyphonic web, soon joined by the violas but not until bar 28 does the bass enter. This gives weightlessness to this most beguiling of all the cycle’s varied openings. The Stockholm strings sounded wonderfully sonorous, and with such accuracy and clarity in counterpoint of celestial beauty, helped by Oramo’s tempo perhaps being slightly broader than the marked 2/2 Allegro molto moderato. The violins dominate the Sixth but often Sibelius’ characteristic chirruping woodwinds added some nature impressionism, not least in the Scherzo’s important melody for flutes and harp. The finale was expertly directed through its mostly fast episodes until slowing in its coda to a satisfying pp.

Sakari Oramo and RSPO Executive and Artistic Director, Stefan Forsberg
© Yanan Li

The RSPO gave the world premiere of the Seventh Symphony (then called Fantasia sinfonica), conducted by the composer in Stockholm on 24th March 1924. Its one movement form seems the logical goal of all its predecessors, as Sibelius once tried to tell Mahler that the power of symphonic music was the “inner connection between all the motifs”. It requires great concentration from its performers, and a conductor who grasps the sheer size of its paragraphs, delineated by the three appearances of the mighty trombone theme. That is first heard nine pages into the score and marked sonore, yet everyone else is playing mf or f, with violins and violas and cellos now divisi to let the trombone sound through this luminous texture. Oramo and his players got this just right. Conducting Sibelius, and the Seventh above all, needs mastery of the art of transition. Here Oramo, as throughout the cycle, seemed to conjure each section naturally from its predecessor. These concerts were magnificently performed by the Stockholm players, a superb tribute to a great composer from one of his great champions, Sakari Oramo.

This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream