Is Sibelius rising so high on symphonic programs because a profusion of talented Scandinavian conductors have championed his works? You can make a good case for the idea, and the works have proven themselves by revealing new aspects in readings by individual conductors. Consider this release by the BBC Symphony and its conductor Sakari Oramo, who has not recorded much Sibelius since ascending the podium in London, although he was known as a Sibelius specialist previously. Perhaps he feels ready to return to the music of the great Finn, which he treats in well-considered, detailed interpretations that are indeed distinctive. Consider (and sample) the best-known movement of the lot here, The Swan of Tuonela, which is often extracted from the larger Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22. This is a symphonic poem (or a quartet of them) based on a character in the epic The Kalevala. Sibelius struggled with the work, suppressed two movements, and finally released them in a different order from how they appeared originally; Oramo places The Swan third, ignoring the composer's second-guessing, and he gets the very best from the BBC Symphony in this orchestral showpiece. Throughout the Suite, he takes care to reveal internal lines and small details, and the effect is somewhat like hearing a story told by a master raconteur who inserts digressions that all turn out to relate to the main thread. Sibelius' language in his theatrical incidental music, like the Belshazzar's Feast Suite, Op. 51 (it was written for a play and is all-instrumental), was quite different from that of his tone poems, and Oramo adjusts nicely in this somewhat splashier work. The rarely heard Spring Song, Op. 16, is an attractive entr'acte. A satisfying release that will repay repeated hearings.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22|
|Belshazzar's Feast Suite, Op. 51|