Thursday 5 February 2015

Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra bring a terrific assurance to Nielsen’s Symphonies No.1 and 3 Sinfonia Espansiva, finding so many fine details and a sense of re-discovery on this new release from BIS

Chief Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, continues his cycle of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) symphonies on BIS Records with Symphonies No.1 and 3 ‘Sinfonia Espansiva’.

BIS - 2048 SACD

Following on from his highly recommendable recording of Nielsen’s fourth and fifth symphonies I came to this new release with great expectations and was not disappointed.

Sakai Oramo has already shown on his first disc in this cycle that he has the full measure of the energy that is often needed in Nielsen. With the opening of the Allegro Orgoglioso of Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.7 he opens at a fine pace, bringing a terrific clarity to the musical texture. When the tempo slackens there is a fine expansiveness that provides a fine contrast. There are some beautifully shaped wood wind passages and, in the slower passages, a great sense of tension. Oramo controls all the tempi and dynamic changes so well revealing this to be a subtle work, full of drama and mystery. As the movement progresses one becomes aware of the drama increasing with every climax. All of the quieter moments are beautifully shaped and just listen to how Oramo builds slowly from a hushed passage to the brisk incisive coda. Absolutely terrific.

The Andante flows gently forward, Oramo bringing a lovely feel to the music with subtle little rises in dynamics that add so much. He develops a very fine orchestral texture and a lovely forward moving pulse, building a subtle power to the music. What a fine Andante this conductor shows this to be, all the while keeping taut powerful strings behind the musical flow.

Oramo brings out the subtle lightening of mood of the Allegro Comodo - Andante Sostenuto - Tempo I still taut, observing every dynamic and soon letting the orchestra surge naturally to a climax. There is so much pent up energy that Oramo occasionally lets loose as well as many lovely details revealed in the quieter, slower moments. The Royal Stockholm brass bring some lovely sonorities towards the end.

The Finale. Allegro Con Fuoco is full of fire and power, yet kept really taut with Nielsen’s quiet little moments beautifully shaped. Oramo reveals every little detail and nuance. When the music really builds centrally, with some fine woodwind flourishes, he brings a directness that is refreshing. When he later builds another fine climax it is offset by a quite exquisite gentler passage before leading to a terrific coda where Oramo really lets the Royal Stockholm players have their head.

This is an exceptional performance which made me feel as though I was re-discovering this symphony all over again.

Just as Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 ‘The Inextinguishable’ was in the composer’s own words ‘…the elementary will of life…life is unquenchable and inextinguishable…music is life and, as such, inextinguishable…’ so with his Symphony No.3, Op.27, ‘Sinfonia Espansiva’ the first movement, Allegro Espansivo ‘…was meant as a burst of energy and life affirmation…’ Nielsen’s opening staccato chords quickly lead into a glorious flowing theme, an unstoppable outpouring of melody and invention which Oramo picks up on, revealing Nielsen’s strength and energy. There are lovely harmonies and soon a brooding passage where Oramo again finds a confined power with very taut playing from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. There are some fine woodwind passages with Oramo finding wonder in the little details of the quieter moments. Midway, a waltz rhythm appears to which Oramo brings an underlying feeling of menace before the rhythm is allowed to break out powerfully. Later Oramo doesn’t miss the related rhythm in a slow, quieter section. As the music becomes more dynamic and the drama increases, this conductor shows how aware he is of the overall architecture of the music before some terrific sweeping passages take us to the coda.

Horns open the Andante Pastorale with some fine, subtle playing as the hushed strings join, full of expectancy. What an incredible atmosphere Oramo conjures up, letting the Royal Stockholm woodwind unfold beautifully. The orchestra’s searing strings do not hold back as they bring an emotional outpouring, showing just a little bit of portamento. Drama tries to break out before baritone Karl-Magnus Fredriksson enters over a lovely orchestral backdrop followed by soprano Anu Komsi with their wordless vocal sonorities lending almost orchestral texture to the music.

Horns sound before woodwind weave a lovely tapestry in the Allegretto un poco, soon interrupted by Nielsen’s schizophrenic sudden disruptions. Oramo brings out all of Nielsen’s little orchestral details as well as his sudden changes of direction. He develops all of this with Nielsen’s tremendous overlaying of textures before, towards the end, the woodwind bring a wistfulness reflected by the whole orchestra.

The Finale. Allegro moves off with a broad, stirring theme from the strings with Oramo bringing a terrific sweep, full of the sense of arrival as the music appears to have overcome all difficulties. There is a lovely ebb and flow before the woodwind and pizzicato strings bring a more playful section. The confident music returns full of power and resolution, beautifully judged right through to the coda where the horns lead before the whole orchestra brings a very fine resolute conclusion.

This is another extremely fine performance from Oramo and his terrific players.

Oramo brings a terrific assurance to these works, finding so many fine details and a sense of re-discovery. There is a very fine recording made at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden and there are excellent booklet notes from David Fanning.

These first two releases are the first real rival to Blomstedt’s San Francisco cycle and look set to be the finest series available. Highly recommended.

I am looking forward immensely to hearing how Oramo handles the elusive sixth.

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