Hearing the performance of Sibeliuss Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104 it was hard to know why it is less frequently performed at the Proms than the composers others. Enigmatic from start to finish (Sibelius conceived the symphony as wild and impassioned but upon completion described it as very tranquil in character and outline) this performance emphasised the highly disparate elements that form the piece, while still making it feel like a coherent whole. In this way, the plunge from C major to B minor in the Allegro molto moderato suddenly made perfect sense, while throughout the strings produced a richly flowing sound that at any point could introduce either a minor or strong sense of agitation.
Proms debut artist, twenty-three year old Alice Sara Ott, then provided an exemplary performance of Griegs Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. Orchestra and soloist worked as one, but in ways that highlighted rather than masked the tensions inherent in the music. The pace was generally on the quick side, which generated a sense of excitement, but certain solo passages were suddenly played at a significantly slower tempo. Such deviations created drama, made time momentarily standstill, and ultimately worked well. Never did an alteration in tempo feel arbitrary, and because each was managed so skilfully and smoothly, many were hardly noticeable at all. Otts playing combined elegance and grace with boldness and clarity, the notion of attack being tempered by the velvety sound. I have heard performances that have given greater attention to the intricacies of each individual note, but few that have demonstrated such intelligent mastery of overall phrasing.
After the interval came Nielsens Symphony No. 4, otherwise known as the Inextinguishable. Conductor Sakari Oramo demonstrated total command of this piece, which can be as turbulent as it is uplifting. While he and the orchestra revealed immensely intricate understanding of the tonal processes that underpin the symphonys structure, it was played as a living, breathing piece rather than as something that is only subservient to its underlying theory. The tightness of the overall performance combined with some truly astonishing moments such as the rush of strings that cut short the Poco adagio quasi andante and launch the Allegro. Perhaps the greatest thrill, however, came at the end with the sumptuous rendering of the final E major paragraph.
This was a truly remarkable Prom of Scandinavian music, and just in case anyone feared that one country had been omitted, the encore provided a sprightly performance of Swedish composer Hugo Alfvns Dance of the Shepherdess.