Whether by serendipity or design, Sakari Oramo’s concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on the 158th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth ended with superb performances of the great composer’s two final symphonies, the Sixth and Seventh. Oramo’s credentials as a Sibelius interpreter are already impeccable – his accounts of the tone poems in the Total Immersion day that the BBCSO devoted to the composer last season were one of the highlights of 2022 – but the clarity and freshness that he brought to these symphonies still came as a joyous revelation.
Oramo presented the two works as a single span, with no break at all between them, so that the modal radiance with which the Sixth comes to rest was followed immediately by the ominous timpani rolls that set the massive mechanism of the single-movement Seventh under way. His approach was utterly free of mannerism or affectation, totally avoiding the moulding and micro-management that some conductors impose on the great musical paragraphs. Sibelius’s architecture was allowed to speak for itself, sometimes enigmatically in the Sixth, majestically and unswervingly in the Seventh, with the BBCSO ensuring that every unvarnished detail registered in both symphonies.
The concert began with Nielsen’s overture An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands, before the Swedish-Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, a former BBC Young Artist, was the soloist in the UK premiere of Tebogo Monnakgotla’s Globe Skimmer Surfing the Somali Jet. Co-commissioned by the BBC, it’s a violin concerto in five continuous sections inspired by the annual migration of a dragonfly, the globe skimmer, which flies across the Indian Ocean to winter in east Africa, and is then carried back on the Somali jet stream to breed in northern India.
The details of that programme don’t mean a great deal in performance, other than to identify the solo violin with the dragonfly’s darting, shimmering flights – brilliantly projected by Dalene – while the orchestra evokes the shifting clouds through which it travels. There’s perhaps more style than substance, but it’s a vivid exploration of fleeting orchestral textures.
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