Chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo directed the third of his four Prom appearances this season, and brought to life in glorious Technicolor a programme of works by four composers with seemingly little in common save for their shared responses to mood and place.

Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra © BBC | Mark Allan
Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

Italy has long been an inspiration for non-compatriot composers (Elgar’s In the South, Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence spring to mind) and the opening item in Prom 61 was no exception. From young Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi (born 1981) we heard the UK première of Liguria (2012), an orchestral soundscape that she describes as a musical “walking tour” of five small fishing villages on Italy’s stunning Ligurian coastline. Atmospheric, colourful, vibrant, Liguria covers a lot of ground without providing any specific musical portrait except for the opening surge of sound from tremolo strings, bass drum and gong evoking the swell of the sea. A languorous four-note motif from the cor anglais promises much but then leads to ostinato figuration with a guiro slicing the air to playful effect. After a rousing climax, the music subsides into nocturnal whispering – slithering violins adding mystery – and brought to a close this sparkling score.

In Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915 Renée Fleming was an ardent soloist for a performance where she and Oramo took a non-sentimental approach, preferring moderate to fastish tempi rather than any Romantic indulgence. A shame, since the heavily-laden text needs more space in a venue of this size and where Fleming’s diction was not always crystal clear. Billed as a soprano, it was her warmer mezzo range that was more gratifying where she delivered lustrous, chocolate tones. Balance between her and the players’ polished orchestral support was well judged, and the unresolved final chord ending fifteen minutes of nostalgia was magical. Fleming returned to sing Barber’s equally poignant song Sure on this shining night – bewitching, intimate and simple – a gem of a song (also setting a text by James Agee) that held the audience spellbound.

Renée Fleming, Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra © BBC | Mark Allan
Renée Fleming, Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

Following the interval was a rare treat to hear the closing scene from Richard Strauss’ “Bucolic Tragedy in One Act” that is Daphne where Fleming and Oramo formed an achingly beautiful partnership, sensuous lines and expressive harmonies lovingly shaped – and all the more memorable for  her off-stage singing. She bade a final farewell to the audience with Strauss’ song Morgen, which was utterly sublime.

To finish it was Nielsen’s Symphony no. 2 “The Four Temperaments”, inspired following a day imbibing in a country pub where he had encountered a crude painting depicting the ancient Greek ‘Four Temperaments’ (choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine) which provided titles for the work’s four movements. In this, Oramo put together a performance of extraordinary polish and refinement, no doubt drawing on his experience gained through recording all of Nielsen’s symphonies with this same orchestra. The opening tempo was suitably no nonsense, with arresting jabs from the brass and plenty of sprung rhythm from the strings, compelling in its buoyancy and yet not as irascible as some performances can be. Poise characterised the waltz of the second movement with plenty of transparent orchestral detail and also no lack of momentum. A strong sense of line developed in the dream-like textures of the Andante malincolico and in the Finale Oramo drew a suitably unbuttoned response from his players, its outdoors feel well caught, the whole capped by a march of magisterial splendour.