The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo gave us a diverse and exciting programme, with four diverse orchestral pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Starting with Richard Strauss' Don Juan, the orchestra was then joined by Javier Perianes in a performance of Grieg's Piano Concerto. After the interval Sibelius's En Saga and Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite were given contrasting performance by the orchestra. It was an evening full of surprises – some good, and some less so, and above all it was an evening of outstanding musicianship.

Don Juan is a piece full of bravado, but Oramo led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance that was transparent and often very well-balanced. From the thundering opening bars, the orchestra demanded the audience's full attention, and held onto this ferocity throughout the performance. At times, however, there was a lack of subtlety that did no justice to the piece or the orchestra; despite the youthful enthusiasm one can hear in the music, it is also quite a moving piece and this was lost.

Javier Perianes © Josep Molina
Javier Perianes
© Josep Molina

Spanish pianist Javier Perianes had joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra on their latest tour, and there was undoubtedly a real connection between the soloist and the orchestra. Their performance of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor was characterized by a beautiful symbiosis between the orchestra and Perianes, which made the performance an absolute joy to listen to. Perianes has a velvety touch and, even though he was convincing throughout, it was in the quieter sections that the warmth of his playing really came to the fore. Perianes played beautifully in the second movement, though the orchestra seemed to miss some of the warmth that Perianes exuded so powerfully, the strings sounded beautiful but missed a certain intensity. However, the third movement of the piece was exceptional, Oramo's smile already setting the tone when the first notes were played. The strong rhythms and luscious melodies made for an impressive finale to the concerto, and the enthusiasm of all the musicians on stage was contagious.

En Saga, a tone poem by Jean Sibelius, was the musical highlight of the evening. Oramo's reading of the piece was subtle, profound and mesmerizing. The music contains many playful elements yet it is also rather epic – as it's name, translated as "A Fairy Tale" would suggest. Oramo and the BBCSO took the audience on a journey, a journey that can be interpreted in different ways – Sibelius's admission that En Saga was one of the most personal of his works allows us, for example, to think of the journey as a personal, internal one. However, I felt myself being taken to woodlands, dances, storms and beaches – the rich colours of the music painting different scenes that tease the imagination. Part of the richness of the music was of course the impressive playing by the orchestra, the BBCSO played stunningly, with particularly beautiful solo's by first viola Norbert Blume and first clarinettist Nicholas Cox.

Stravinsky re-arranged his Firebird ballet into this suite in 1945, and even though it is for a different orchestration than the original ballet, the suite managed to convey the vigour of the Firebird quite faithfully. Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave a solid reading, and a lot of the musicians played exceptionally well. However, I felt somewhat disappointed by the performance; after such a perfect reading of Sibelius's En Saga, the Stravinsky seemed a bit too neat and a little too careful, Oramo painted too neatly within the lines. At the same time, this performance did bring out some of the more romantic elements of The Firebird, which certainly suited the rest of tonight's programme. The musicians were again excellent, but overall this performance lacked some of the punch that belongs to any interpretation of Stravinsky.