It's quite a thought, but had Sibelius not written such stirringly nationalistic music this week's CBSO programme would have been an all-Russian 20th century affair.
During his early career Sibelius' Finnish homeland was under Russian control, but, rather as with Verdi earlier in Italy, his music inspired such patriotic fervour that the liberation bandwagon rolled unstoppably into action.
As a symbol of freedom Sibelius' Symphony no 2 evokes as a beacon the light and warmth of the Italy where it was conceived, and summons an irresistible call to arms. The young Estonian conductor Olari Elts (who knows about Russian oppression from experience) brought a reading of much integrity to this well-worn work, avoiding momentary thrills along the way as he guided his willing play-ers through a reading of sustained tension towards a genuinely powerful, clinching finale.
Long exiled from his Russian birthplace, Rachmaninov retained an immense affinity with Russian Orthodoxy, with a life-long obsession with the "Dies Irae". This plainchant becomes of increasing significance in his last works, notably in the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, described by piano soloist Stephen Hough as "one of the most intellectually organised compositions of the century".
Hough's illuminating interpretation combined freshness with a rigorous backbone against which his occasional holdings-back added point to the heart of extended phrases. He was accompanied by an orchestra with reduced strings, allowing more of Rachmaninov's intricate detail to tell -- not least Andrew Barnell's deliciously lugubrious bassoon solo in one of these Dies Irae variations.
Willingly returning to his Rus-sian homeland now itself under the yoke of Stalinism, Prokofiev celebrated with his Russian Overture, an irritatingly rambling structure which offered showpiece opportunities to an orchestra acutely responsive to Elts' many-sided stick technique.