Jean Sibelius once remarked to close friends, "If I cannot write a better symphony than my Seventh, then it shall be my last." Thankfully he did not end his compositional career after his Seventh Symphony. Before largely dropping out of the public sphere, Sibelius finished his remarkable incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest and tone poem Tapiola.
Conductor Okko Kamu and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra bring these pieces to life in a new release, Sibelius: The Tempest, The Bard & Tapiola for BIS Records.
Located in a provincial city north of Helsinki, the Lahti Symphony is the story of a small orchestra fulfilling big ambitions. Under Osmo Vänskä, its chief conductor from 1988 to 2008, the ensemble won a record contract and soon a number of international awards. A new concert hall in Lahti, the aptly named Sibelius Hall, opened to great acclaim in 2000 and brought the city of 100,000 and its orchestra even more attention. It got to the point where, in the view of some Finnish observers, the Lahti Symphony eclipsed the renown of the older and more established Helsinki Philharmonic in Finland's capital city.
This represents the group's first album under the baton of its new chief conductor, the veteran Okko Kamu. He is sensitive to the many details in both The Tempest and Tapiola, works composed in 1925-26, and which achieved great fame when they debuted in Helsinki. While the Lahti orchestra isn't big -- just 70 players -- it makes up for lack of heft with much energy and polish. Especially captivating is the use of percussion to portray the ambiguous character of Prospero, which is captured in top-notch SACD sound.
Sibelius: The Tempest, The Bard, Tapiola
Okko Kamu, Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Available at Arkivmusic.com
Photo: Marcus Henttonen