Sakari Oramo’s four final concerts as chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are devoted to Sibelius’ symphonies, and this second concert reached symphonies Three and Four. The Third uses the smallest orchestra of the seven, but is usually given with full strings (eight basses and sixteen first violins); here, we had a distanced and therefore smaller string group. But while this had very slightly impaired the heroic big tunes of Symphonies One and Two in the first concert, it hardly mattered with this pair of symphonies.

Sakari Oramo
© Yanan Li

Indeed, such was the warmth of this hall and the resonance offered by its emptiness that the Third’s allegro moderato opening – just the six cellos and five basses in unison – was as ingratiating as ever, and the conductor’s encouragement of more tone than the piano marking implies was effective. Oramo is no slave to the score’s markings and rarely consults the copy on his desk. The happy impression made by the exposition continued though a stirring account of the whole movement. The second movement’s confusing marking, Andantino con moto quasi allegretto, unsurprisingly leads to conductors choosing quite a range of tempi but Oramo’s middle course allowed his excellent players to phrase beautifully and the piece to unfold naturally. The scherzo first section of the finale led with a sense of inevitability to the emergence of the finale’s main theme, and on to its noble conclusion.

This splendid account of the Third was very nearly matched by that of the Fourth. That far more elusive work is Sibelius’ bleakest, though many claim it is one of his greatest. Its gnomic, fragmentary elements are initially stronger in suggestion than statement and it demands fierce concentration from the players. Of course, Oramo has the measure of the work and finds a pace that helps the ear follow its logic and respects the many brooding moments of stasis as the Largo third movement gropes towards its destined apotheosis. This was another cogent interpretation, if perhaps the last degree of intensity was missing on this occasion, with no live audience to be drawn into the Fourth’s dark heart.

Anu Komsi, Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

The symphonic poem Luonnotar tells the creation myth in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. There are few greater works by any composer for voice and orchestra, but the Finnish language and the difficult vocal part make it a rarity in concert. But it is a calling-card for Finnish soprano Anu Komsi, who is nearing her hundredth performance of the piece, and she gave a compelling interpretation. Sibelius treats the voice instrumentally and Komsi has the right sound: gleaming, clear, formidably accurate, but almost without vibrato in a piece often afflicted by Wagnerian wobbling. “Too human” was the composer’s verdict on the Finnish premiere, but Komsi has the secret to the vocal role in Luonnotar’s unique atmosphere. The sighing motif derived from Karelian runic chanting was not so much singing as bardic incantation. If there was music before the world was created, this is what it sounded like.

This concert was reviewed from the Konserthuset Play live stream.