When a composer makes his Philadelphia debut 140 years after his death, you have to ask, Why?

Franz Berwald (1796-1868) and his Symphony No. 3 made a first-ever Philadelphia Orchestra appearance Friday at Verizon Hall in what music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin called “a Nordic soundscape.”

Berwald's "Sinfonie singuliere" didn't quite live up to the originality promised by its subtitle. But the Swedish composer gave you a new appreciation for what followed — Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 Op. 105 and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto played by Lisa Batiashvili — thanks to what the symphony was and was not.

In the Berwald piece, commonplace musical gestures were ordered in fun, trick endings, reflecting the composer’s sound planning and industriousness. It’s indoorsy music, like Mendelssohn’s tidier moments.  Nézet-Séguin found passages looking forward to Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) that gave the music extra toughness while the orchestra’s sound added majesty. Is that enough for a successful debut? Sure, but Sibelius and Tchaikovsky were so much more meaningful.

The single-movement, 20-minute Sibelius symphony suggests matters well beyond music, like massive landscapes and tectonic plates.

The structure is inexplicably miraculous, with abstract, contemplative qualities that Nézet-Séguin  particularly responded to with slow but high-tension tempos. You might call it the “Parsifal treatment,” but the dominance of the Philadelphia string sound blunted the music’s individual events — a problem if you hear the symphony as a series of semi-fragmentary modules that progress step by step to one of the most astounding resolutions in symphonic history.

Sibelius might've called it "devilishly clever" — his words for his Symphony No. 8 that he never finished, perhaps because the 7th, his last, couldn't be topped.

As for Tchaikovsky, one never outgrows his emotion-steeped melodies, especially as played by Batiashvili, whose freshness came from organizing the phrases in ways that made sense to her own ears — and thus to ours.

She played it as if it were the most important piece in the world, in contrast to Christian Tetzlaff in past seasons, who was more like an intelligent interloper.

Nézet-Séguin delivered a hyper-sensitive accompaniment with a third movement that was wonderfully balletic. For an encore, they played a transcription of the Tchaikovsky song “None but the Lonely Heart” with even deeper emotional conviction.


Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

    • Program repeats Sept. 22 and 29 at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall. Tickets: $57-$168. Information: 215-893-1999 or philorch.org