First Night: A fine start to Finnish career

CBSO Sakari Oramo

EXIT SIMON the Scouse. Enter Sakari the Suomi. Only two bars into Sibelius's tone poem The Bard it was obvious we were in for something special, not just from the CBSO's new young Finnish conductor but for the players themselves.

Sibelius's Bard (dating from 1912) is a silent sage, a miracle of under-statement, like his Fourth Symphony of the same period.

The harp (played with feeling and insight by Robert Johnstone) has a key role; it ventures out alone into the Nordic night while the strings grope around in a still wilderness which makes way, ultimately for an unforeseen burst of brass.

Yet unlike in Karelia or Finlandia, it is not the brass which supplies the climax. The climax is the whole - the long, mesmerising stillness of it all. This is the stuff that dreams are made on.

Henri Dutilleux composed his violin concerto L'Arbre des Songes at the age of nearly 70. Together, Oramo and his soloist Olivier Charlier showed that his brand of late flowering Romanticism can provide a concerto to set beside Barber and Korngold. It is a luscious piece, with its bursts of chordal Messiaen, exquisite links for clarinet, percussion and piano.

And so to Mahler. It was Kubelik's version that I (like many others) was brought up on, and Oramo brought that version, with its Classical directness and unostentatious sense of build-up, strangely to mind.

This was truly exciting Mahler, packed with tension, its more vicious junctures superbly punched out by thrusting solo clarinet (Colin Parr); rhythmically assured and beautifully controlled the moment in the scherzo where flutes and violas scuttle away like a babbling brook out of Beethoven, or the extraordinary momentwhen sanity is restored by harp and solo flute.

This was top drawer stuff. Birmingham has found a top drawer principal conductor.

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