Sibelius: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Tapiola

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Tapiola
PERFORMER: CBSO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-49144-2
The outstanding success here is the Sixth Symphony. That in itself is remarkable enough: the Sixth is the Sibelius symphony conductors usually find the hardest to get to grips with. Unlike Nos 5 and 7 it avoids heroics, the atmosphere is subtle, shifting and difficult to grasp, and emotionally it leaves a strange aftertaste, at once melancholy and serene. But Sakari Oramo brings it off so naturally you’d think getting to the heart of this elusive work was the easiest thing in the world. There’s an intimacy here that so many other versions lack – a sympathetic recording helps, though that’s clearly not the whole story. Oramo also shows – as he does in Tapiola – that often the best way to approach Sibelius’s challenging gear-changes is to take his tempo markings at face value. The Sixth’s hymn-like epilogue is exactly half the speed of the preceding music (as the composer demands) but it sounds revelatory.

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In the Seventh Symphony, however, while his sense of proportion is strong, Oramo misses the energy and searing intensity of his fellow-Finn Osmo Vänskä on BIS. It’s a performance that impresses without engaging on a deeper, more visceral level. And that’s even truer of Oramo’s Tapiola. Here is a very well-thought-out performance, but so too is Vänskä’s, and it’s the latter who brings out the elemental dread and loneliness that make Sibelius’s last masterpiece so much more than a ‘tone painting’. In comparison Oramo can even sound cosy – the last thing one wants Tapiola to be. Stephen Johnson