You might think that, having one Sibelius symphonic cycle in its catalogue with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä and another one already underway, with Vänskä now conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (as well as a cycle from the early days of the label, with Neeme Järvi conducting the Gothenburg SO), BIS would decide that it had enough Sibelius symphonies on the market. Not so, and with good reason.
These performances by Okko Kamu are very different from the previous Lahti cycle, and from Vänskä’s American recordings: in Lahti Vänskä favoured a kind of athletic muscularity, grown even more powerful in the mid-west. Kamu’s Sibelius is more measured: he lets the music dictate its own pace, so that it unfolds like a kind of natural process, as a leaf might unfurl.
Twenty years ago, when I first started attending performances in Lahti, the orchestra was proud of its lean, mean sound: they knew that they ought to have more strings but were proud of the nimbleness that their size gave them. Now it is a much richer, warmer sound (caught to perfection in these SACD recordings), and Kamu savours the details of the orchestral texture he can now obtain: there are all sorts of strands of colour and points of detail here that I hasn’t noticed before.
And the spontaneous, unforced quality of these interpretations gives them a physicality that packs a real punch: Kamu’s climaxes will knock you back in your seat. It is meaningless to select a ‘best’ recording when musicians have such different views of the same pieces of music, but I can say that you would be hard-pressed to find more satisfying performances anywhere else.
SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 1–7
Lahti Symphony Orchestra, cond. Okko Kamu
BIS-2076 (three CDs)