Sibelius: Symphonies No. 1; Symphony No. 3; Finlandia

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Symphonies No. 1; Symphony No. 3; Finlandia
PERFORMER: City of Birmingham SO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-43500-2
Sakari Oramo’s earlier discs in his Sibelius cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra made a strong impression. He is thoughtful and perceptive, and a conductor of quality. The First Symphony comes off particularly well here. Tempi are well judged, the playing is impassioned and Oramo builds up the architecture of the piece with impressive control. The Third marked a major turning point in Sibelius’s creative evolution and encapsulates the spirit of his oft-quoted remark that ‘Classicism is the way of the future’. In Oramo’s hands the first movement is rather more allegro than moderato, but momentum is well sustained and phrasing sensitively shaped. He adopts a very measured tempo in the slow movement and though the atmosphere is finely conveyed, he allows tension to sag. In the finale, again well built-up, the balance gives the horns rather too much prominence. Of course, we are spoiled for choice here and although this well-recorded reading has much to recommend it, I would not prefer it to Colin Davis (RCA), Ashkenazy or Blomstedt (both Decca), all differently coupled. They have the benefit of impeccably tuned and well blended wind. Incidentally, the claims of another Sakari, Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, should not be forgotten. His are very likeable readings, totally unselfconscious and with real authenticity of feeling. All the same those who are collecting this cycle will know that Oramo’s thoughts on these pieces are well worth having. Robert Layton