Sakari Oramo has been Chief Conductor the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008 and is about to leave the post. So this “Grand Finale I” was the first of four concerts to mark his farewell with music in which his reputation stands high – the seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius. Oramo feels they are best heard in sequence, as “Sibelius worked on several symphonies simultaneously, and there are always elements in one symphony that can be detected in the symphony preceding it.” So this first concert had just two items, the First and Second Symphonies.

Sakari Oramo
© Yanan Li

A soft (pp crescendo) drumroll, and a clarinet (mf espressivo), hairpin dynamics punctuating its rise and fall over 26 bars, is the mysterious portal to this cycle, and already we heard the benefits of observing detailed markings. That Andante opening yielded to a stirring Allegro energico and Oramo maintained momentum even through the lyrical episodes, right up to that curt close with two pizzicato string chords. The ensuing Andante had an especially hushed opening muted violin lullaby – with a metre between each fiddler and no sharing of desks each violinist must have felt they were playing a solo. The cymbal clashes registered well at the climax, but the harp – a key instrument in this work – was too subdued in the streamed sound mix despite its position in the very centre of the layout. The Scherzo’s rhythm can challenge an orchestra, but its tricky syncopations were delivered with flair by the Stockholm players. The finale’s thrilling ardour was not diminished in the empty hall, as we approached the triumphant ending that Sibelius, despite being armed with bass drum, cymbal and triangle, omitted to write. Instead we heard the two resigned pizzicato chords that ended the first movement.

Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

The Second Symphony had the same virtues of well-judged speeds, subtle rubato, fine individual and corporate playing, that we heard in the First. From the chirruping winds at the start, to the climax with its Sibelian trademark swelling long note ending with a shake, Oramo was a sure-footed guide in the first movement. Suave bassoons in octaves led us into the Kalevala world of the slow movement, where the (slightly reduced) string body sang the hymn-like second subject sweetly. The flying 6/8 of the Scherzo was true to its vivacissimo marking, and although this work is familiar to players, such virtuosity is not to be taken for granted. The finale’s coda, which can sound like music which, in Stravinsky’s phrase, “ends after it has finished”, was expertly graduated by Oramo so that there was a stirring sense of direction through to the close. So although the Second Symphony jettisons the First’s bass drum, cymbal, harp, piccolo and triangle, we nonetheless got the heroic finale denied us by the First. So following the First with the Second Symphony made more than chronological sense.

This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream