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Weekend Music Review

Promising Philharmonic Debut for Finnish Conductor Oramo

May 17, 1999|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the last generation, Shostakovich's symphonies seem to have jumped the acceptance wall, going from cold enigmas to hot statements in public perception. It was with the Fifth--always among the composer's most popular works--that Sakari Oramo made the biggest impression in his well-received Los Angeles Philharmonic debut Friday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The young Finnish musician is certainly on the A-list of rising conductors. Formerly the concertmaster of the Finnish Radio Symphony, he became co-principal conductor of that orchestra in 1993, and this season has been his first as heir to Simon Rattle's mantle as the new principal conductor and artistic advisor of the City of Birmingham Symphony.

Pacing was a key element in Oramo's highly effective approach to the Fifth. He connected tempos tightly, both within and between movements, and he enforced a clarity of texture that allowed the Philharmonic principals to shine in the pervasive solos. He shaped the vast Largo with a measure of serenity as well as poignancy, in an interpretation notable as much for warmth as for intensity.

On the podium, Oramo was a confident but often rather jerky presence, much inclined to twitchy subdivision of the beat. Despite this attention, it was not a mechanically perfect performance. But it was one of richness and nuance. This is a work that turns up regularly on the Philharmonic schedule, and the orchestra plays it with knowledge and affection.

Oramo took a fairly conventional modern instrument tack with Mozart's Symphony No. 39,K. 543, reducing the band and emphasizing woodwind detailing in a quick, crisp, alertly played performance. His most notable interpretive decision was an abrupt pause after the Trio section of the Minuetto movement.

The conductor also brought a novelty with him, the 1995 tone poem "Lintukoto" (Isle of Bliss) by Einojuhani Rautavaara, one of the grand old men of Finnish music. Oramo seems inspired by this conservative, blandly pretty postcard, and the busily engaged Philharmonic gave it abundant radiance and energy.

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