Sibelius

Klaus Mäkelä / Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

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Sibelius Review

by James Manheim

The Oslo Philharmonic has had a number of Finnish conductors down through the years, but it is due to the pandemic that listeners are able to sample the work of its new young one ("boy wonder" is a possible formulation), Klaus Mäkelä, in the Olympic medal round of the Sibelius symphonies. During the 2020-2021 season, many of the orchestra's concerts were canceled, and Mäkelä was forced to focus on the Sibelius works that had already been prepared. "We played, played, played, and then recorded," Mäkelä says in the notes, which nicely interweaves his own insights with those of Nordic music historian Andrew Mellor. The results show the Oslo players in peak form, and the same is true of the hall where the music was recorded, the Oslo Konserthus. This venue has been the subject of controversy; Mariss Jansons went so far as to resign his conductorship over its acoustics, but here, one can detect what the sound designers had in mind. The acoustics have an extremely spacious, laid-back sound. One can hear how Beethoven in this hall might be a muddy mess, but it fits nicely with Mäkelä's readings, which are deliberate, spacious themselves, and oriented toward the long line. Consider the Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82, for the flavor of his work here. The opening is deliciously sensitive, and the descending figure when it appears in the slow movement is beautifully honed. Mäkelä is perhaps at this best in the extraordinarly complex Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105, and least successful in the Tchaikovskian Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39. Distinctive features here include the presence of the late tone poem Tapiola, Op. 112, which Mellor perceptively identifies as a kind of summation of the composer's work, and of three late fragments from Sibelius' notes that might have represented ideas for the Symphony No. 8 that the composer ultimately tossed into the flames. This is a beautifully formed and executed Sibelius set, and it's no surprise that enough listeners have braved the hefty list price of the set and placed it on the classical best-seller lists.

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