Magazine article Gramophone

Sibelius: Complete Symphonies (Nos 1-7)

Magazine article Gramophone

Sibelius: Complete Symphonies (Nos 1-7)

Article excerpt


Complete Symphonies (Nos 1-7)

Lahti Symphony Orchestra / Okko Kamu

BIS [M] (3) [SACD] BIS2076 (4h' * DDD/DSD)

The close proximity of Simon Rattle's latest survey of the symphonies with the majestic Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra only serves to highlight the stark difference in approach adopted by Okko Kamu and his leaner lither, Lahti Symphony. Actually, it is the character and sound of that orchestra that makes the difference, with cleaner contours, sharper reflexes and, from the BIS engineers, a greater immediacy of the all-important woodwind voices. Inner parts are thrown into sharp relief. It enables Kamu to highlight the harmonic daring of the music and to move it from stasis to action almost instantaneously.

Of course, one occasionally misses the tonal splendour of such orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, be it for Rattle or Karajan, and the famed Berlin string basses anchor this music in ways that the markedly lighter Lahti section cannot. Kamu's violins, too, are thin by comparison with the world's finest, and the big tunes of the First and Second symphonies might be found wanting by some. But there are significant benefits to be had from greater mobility, and the rhythmic nature of this music is far better served here than by the somewhat ungainly Berliners. Osmo Vanska has taught us how vital that is to the imperative of these pieces--and his cycle with the Lahti orchestra remains super-compelling.

But Kamu has a view, a very personal one, and what he always catches is the intrigue of this music. He is self-evidently inquisitive and, familiar though the music undoubtedly is to him, he always gives us a sense of 'exploration', of not quite knowing where we might be headed next. The pale clarinet solo at the opening of the First Symphony is like an intrepid explorer, scenting the unknown at the start of the journey. It is quite magically and mysteriously shaded. And when did you last hear the dissonance quite so exposed in the first gusty tutti? Nor is Kamu afraid to create space in moments of stasis; a change in the complexion of the landscape is always marked by an intensifying of the atmosphere therein. Some readers may recall Kamu's debut recording of the Second Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic from 1970. The younger man was showing off, grossly exaggerating the gaping silences that punctuate the brassy, elemental upheavals of the second movement. Such excesses have since been ironed out, though he still capitalises on the contrasts both in tempo and dynamics. …

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