Picture credit: Decca Classics
Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Playfulness and tedium

Stravinsky, Petrushka; Debussy, Jeux and Prelude (Decca)


The Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä, just 28 years old, is the hottest property on the circuit though still unrecognised beyond the orchestra fishbowl. Mäkelä is presently music director in Oslo, Paris and Amsterdam. He is also (I hear) about to be named chief conductor in Chicago. How he balances all those jobs is anyone’s guess.

Off stage, he has just ended a six-month relationship with the pianist Yuja Wang. The pair have concert bookings together for the next three years. That could be tricky when it comes to eye contact. Forget what they burble on the radio: classical music and romance don’t go together.

The great question is what the lanky Finn brings to the party. His musicianship is lithe and flexible and he seems to have acquired the transactional skills to make an orchestra walk through fire behind him. His interpretations, however, have been inconsistent, unoriginal and at times superficial. An Oslo set of Sibelius symphonies verged on anonymity. A Stravinsky Rite of Spring in Paris passed muster by the skin of its almond blossoms.

Here, Mäkelä and Paris perform Petrushka with arresting results. There is devilment in the detail and a higher component of Rite-like savagery than I have ever heard before in this score. The Paris woodwinds play with skin-tingling precision and the pianist Bertrand Chamayou chips in with a playfulness that is simply irresistible. Petrushka positively sparkles.

Two Debussy pieces less so. The “dance poem” Jeux barely lifts its heels off the floor and the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is not so much dreamy as positively soporific. The French orchestra can, of course, play these pieces in their sleep. But that’s not what they should be doing on a record. This conductor needs to save his naps for the plane.

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