Sakari conducts Sibelius & Strauss

The CBSO provide another memorable Symphony Hall occasion, as Simon Hale testifies.

Sakari Oramo made a triumphant return to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in guest conducting the orchestra in a concert at Symphony Hall. Long in tune with the CBSO as its music director from 1998 to 2008, he was joined by his wife, the soprano Anu Komsi (below), in a programme of works by Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius.

No stranger to Sibelius from his own native Finland and having recorded all his symphonies with the CBSO and other orchestras, Oramo brought out all the joy, humour and drama in the opening work, Sibelius’s incidental music to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Performed in a different order to the play, the nine short pieces began with a beautiful flute solo by Marie-Christine Zupancic played against dreamlike harmonies from the strings. The work ended thrillingly with the waves in its raging Storm dramatically whipped up by the strong brass section.

The Tempest also introduced a valedictory theme to the evening, having been composed in 1926 as Sibelius’s last but one work. Meanwhile his final symphony, the seventh, was completed in 1924. Oramo knew it so well that he conducted the piece in Symphony Hall without a score.

He steered the orchestra through the single-movement symphony with sheer brilliance, bringing out every detail vividly and in total control of the ever-changing tempos. You could feel the intense yearning in the opening mood before it changed to waltz and folk-dance reminiscences and the steady building to stirring climaxes until the work’s stunningly moving C Major chord resolution.

Looking radiant in a sequined floral gown, Anu Komsi brought a brassy but precise voice to a joyful spring of early years in the first of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, her voice soaring over the orchestra and amplified by the hall’s wonderful acoustics.

She remained on song as the mood changed to melancholy in contemplation of death, the CBSO harmonising at first with beautiful solo violin playing by Eugene Tzikindelean and finally with viola and horn solos harking back to Strauss’s Death & Transfiguration tone poem from Strauss’s youth.

Komsi also brought a yearning, not for times past, but for love in Aarre Merikanto’s Ekho, an eight-minute tone poem from 1922 based on the Greek legend in which Echo falls in love with Narcissus who only loves his own reflection. Her rounded reading was rich in colour and nuance, and you sensed her unrequited loss as a continuous melody faded into a fragmented finale.

Both singer and conductor received sustained rousing applause from the appreciative audience at the end of a terrific evening. The only quibble was the lack of any song lyrics in the programme.

The CBSO will perform Gabriel Faure’s Requiem with the CBSO Chorus, along with Faure’s Pavane, Camille Saint-Saens’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Faure’s Tzigane with violinist Rosanne Philippens as soloist, at 7.30 pm on Thursday, March 21st at Symphony Hall.

For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at

Pics – Benjamin Ealovega (front page), Kuvat Maarit (this page).