CBSO Celebrating Sibelius * * * * *
Symphony Hall
Review by Christopher Morley

Saturday's concert with the CBSO Celebrating Sibelius provided a decidedly meaty menu in the form of Finland's greatest composer's last three symphonies.

Before the main courses, though, we had a fine appetiser in Sibelius' early but significant Karelia Suite. Sakari Oramo gave the piece the credit it deserves, summoning tight trumpet-playing in the exhilarating Intermezzo, drawing yet another perennially eloquent cor anglais solo from Peter Walden in the Ballade, and unleashing stirring brass and percussion and skirling woodwind in the Alla Marcia.

We had an audience member who turned on his mobile phone and took a picture.

Oramo revelled in the nature-sounds of the Fifth Symphony (not so far from the Mahler from whom Sibelius was allegedly diametrically opposed), his reading strong and lithe, building to two cut-offs which he engineered so well here, but which he may well miss in other acoustics.

Himself an expert violinist, he coaxed from the CBSO strings a politely outspoken style of delivery which worked brilliantly in the slow movement. There was a wonderfully Straussian shaping to the symphony's epic ending.

But there were also ancient compositional procedures at work in this symphony which were more to the fore in its two successors.

Oramo subtly combined a Palestrinian purity with an elfin gleefulness in his interpretation of the Sixth Symphony, superbly structured and keeping both past and present elements in tensile balance.

And the Seventh Symphony, the last that Sibelius gave to the world, and one of the greatest ever written, received a reading which never allowed the listener to forget its vast implications within such a compact structure.

With performance skills from the CBSO which go without saying, we can merely applaud the cogency of this amazing unfolding.