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FINNISH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Though it's only six years old, the Finnish Chamber Orchestra is already its country's flagship ensemble. The performances of a pair of late Haydn symphonies (numbers 92 and 99) on its debut CD (Ondine), under the baton of veteran maestro Paavo Berglund, are precise and vigorous, showing the skilled, tight-knit 38-member orchestra at ease and reveling in spirited camaraderie. The FCO is the product of careful government-sponsored orchestra building and has a mandate to promote the works of Finnish and other Scandinavian composers in addition to the core classical and late-19th-century romantic repertoires. At the Chicago stop on its first American tour, the orchestra will be led by Jukka-Pekka Sarate, the Finnish wunderkind who heads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Though only 40, Sarate has more than 60 recordings under his cummerbund, a majority of them made with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the principal supplier to the FCO's roster. His musicianship is keenly intelligent, and he's good at coaxing disciplined, peppy performances, but he's at his best when interpreting Scandinavian works. Fortunately, the program includes two lesser-known compositions by the Finnish great Sibelius, The Lover and Romance in C. The Lover in particular deserves revival: intricately textured, its folk-derived music tenderly portrays the passage of young love from giddy exuberance to melancholic funk. Also included are Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 23 in A and Schubert's Third Symphony. The soloist in the Mozart is another Finnish phenom, Olli Mustonen, who's in his late 20s and a favorite with local concertgoers; his nimble-fingered performances are almost athletic in their grace. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.

TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Olli Mustonen and Jukka-Pekka Saraste by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

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