ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: The Symphonies
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1-7
PERFORMER: Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Okko Kamu
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2076 (hybrid CD/SACD)
It was Osmo Vänskä who created the identity of ‘the Sibelius orchestra’ in the 1990s with his BIS recordings of symphonies and rarities. Now the ‘other’ LSO has the beautiful wooden Sibelius Hall that’s been rightly regarded for the past 15 years as one of the world’s best. BIS’s latest triumph of engineering, albeit with strings and wind slightly closer than you’d get from a prime seat, seems faithful to the spirit of the silences, the capturing of bright upper frequencies and lower resonances.
All this informs unostentatiously enlightening performances by Okko Kamu, the Lahti Symphony’s current chief conductor, who filled in the gaps of Herbert von Karajan’s Sibelius in the 1960s. These interpretations are certainly fresher and more questing than any I’ve heard recently, putting Kamu in the position of a rather more precise and polished Robert Kajanus, Sibelius’s favourite conductor, to Rattle’s Karajanesque tendency to over-interpret (review, p80).
Kamu offers an easier sense of movement, the same intense quiet dynamics and clarity in perfect equilibrium with atmosphere. There’s plenty of excitement, too: the scherzo of the Second is truly vivacissimo, with a return from the oboe’s central reverie which made me jump, and the careful observation of Sibelius’s Molto moderato marking in the first half of the Fifth’s opening hybrid makes the scherzo’s gradual acceleration terrifically exhilarating. Kamu’s unmarked slowing down for the Fourth’s devastating denouement doesn’t work for me. At least the dance is vivid and well sprung, and this slow movement outdoes in terms of deep despair and sense of direction Vänskä’s memorable Lahti record-breaker for length. There’s just space to observe that Three, Seven and above all Six are just perfect, with all the naturalness I want in these elusive masterpieces. Andrew Barnett’s notes in slimline presentation are just as clear and as much of the essence. David Nice