Finland Bruckner Symphony No. 7: The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo (conductor). Helsinki Music Centre 16.9.2015 (GF)
Bruckner, Symphony No. 7
Bruckner’s symphonies give the conductors rather free reins when it comes to tempos and general approach and it was interesting to hear his seventh again in the same venue where the ageing Kurt Masur conducted it four years ago with the same orchestra. Masur, deeply rooted in a German tradition, delivered a monumental reading, but one that was permeated by a feeling of rural robustness paired with nobility. Masur’s conducting, without a baton, was limited to minimal movements with one hand “but with a watchful eye on the proceedings”, as I wrote in my review.
Sakari Oramo is a conductor from the opposite camp: lean and flexible with a telling body language. This was also mirrored in the orchestral sound: more transparent, more chamber music like and the outdoor feeling was – in particular in the third movement – was less countryside oriented, as it was in Masur´s reading. With Oramo the dancers were closer to the town than to the village, maybe in the Stadtpark. This does not mean that there was a lack of monumentality, which is part and parcel with Bruckner’s personality, but where Masur’s monument was shaped in raw granite, Oramo’s was more urbane in sandstone. For many, including myself, the second movement is the deepest, most moving slow movement in the entire symphonic repertoire. The use of four Wagner tubas lends a particular warmth to this music, and also, as Jouni Kaipanen writes in his excellently illuminating programme notes, ‘gives the sound an “other-worldliness”’. The whole movement is a tribute to Richard Wagner, whose death Bruckner had anticipated, and the message of the beloved master’s demise reached Bruckner while he was still working on the movement and the coda is his direct response to this. It is not a funeral march, as Kaipanen also point out, but it has been used on solemn occasions of importance. The consecration of a Bruckner bust in Regensburg in 1937 in the presence of Hitler is one such occasion and a recording of it was played on German radio before the announcement of the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943 and before the announcement of Hitler’s death in 1945. These Nazi references may seem hard to stomach but they must not in any way reduce the impact of Bruckner’s music, and this impact was deeply felt in the Music Centre this Wednesday.