With a population of just over 5 million, Finland can boast of having a disproportionately large number of orchestras with international reputations. This includes the orchestras of Tampere and Lahti, as well as the three full-time bands found in Helsinki. While the former capital city of Turku also has a full-time symphony orchestra, this group does not enjoy the same visibility and recognition as its peers. The Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam, recently appointed music director of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, showcased his new band to Helsinki audiences in this concert.
One of Sibelius’ lesser-known (but nevertheless masterful) tone poems, Aallottaret (The Oceanides), was recently performed by Saraste and the Finnish RSO. Compared to this past performance, Segerstam chose a broader tempo, which gave the opening a foggy and mysterious quality. Particular attention was paid to woodwind articulations and string accents, especially in the animated central section, giving listeners a close-up view of the building waves. At Segerstam’s tempos the piece felt massive and sonorous, and the final crashing wave had an almost visceral power.
Chausson’s orchestral song cycle Poème de l’amour et de la mer continued the evening’s sea theme. Rapturous but not excessively passionate, the piece features some beautiful and haunting moments but can seem excessively lengthy. Swedish mezzo-soprano sang with commitment and passion, and the extended cello solos heard at the work’s conclusion were exquisitely played by Roi Ruottinen.
It would be difficult to imagine a program about the sea without La Mer. Similar to his interpretation of The Oceanides, Segerstam’s La Mer was both massive and sonorous, but his exquisite attention to Debussy’s orchestral details brought out colors and effects sometimes hidden in this familiar piece.
In response to the extremely enthusiastic applause after the Debussy, the orchestra and Segerstam gave an appropriately celebratory account of Sibelius’ Alla Marcia.
Based on this evening’s performance it is safe to say that the Turku Philharmonic can sit comfortably among its peers in Finland, and the technical and artistic level which the orchestra put on display deserves wider recognition.