The record industry never makes the fuss about a Sibelius cycle that it does with Beethoven and Mahler. Not sure why not. Maybe Sibelius sells less, or Finns are shy. Or past sets by the likes of Colin Davis, Neeme Järvi and Herbert Blomstedt failed to get the suits excited.
The new set from young Finn wizz Klaus Mäkelä comes accompanied by exceptional hype from Decca, always a strong Sibelius label. The conductor’s promise is incontestable. At 26, he is chief of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris, and hotly tipped to succeed in Chicago or New York. So how’s his Sibelius?
The fifth symphony has a freshness unheard since the young Simon Rattle, drawing an impulsive intake of breath by musicians and listeners at an interpretation that is, at once, daring in its dynamics and driven by a rhythm that feels unfailingly organic. At moments, it positively glows. The second symphony, on the other hand, is banal by comparison, perhaps too familiar.
The enigma is the seventh, which few maestros since Beecham have raised from the shadows of its predecessors. Klaus Mäkelä finds a wintry darkness, a dapple of lurking dangers held at bay by thick wooden walls. I miss the ominous dimension More upbeat than Beecham or Blomstedt, this Finn expects more of Sibelius than the composer did of himself. Either way, it is a remarkable reading, if not entirely convincing. Mäkelä will not read it like this twenty years from now, nor will he be ashamed of his virgin effort.
A word about the orchestra. The Oslo Phil was raised to world rank by Mariss Jansons in the 1990s, dropped two leagues with Andre Previn, was restored by Vasily Petrenko and is now playing brighter than ever with its thin Finn. Too bright sometimes, but the cohesion and clarity would put many global powerhouses to shame. This, for all its callow episodes, is a fabulously played set, one that will grow on you.
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