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Sibelius album review – Limelight Magazine

“In the First Symphony, he winds a spell from the ominous sounding clarinet solo over timpani which abruptly stops, leaving the impression of complete desolation. Mäkelä made the merciless north winds sound like the hellish blasts in Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. From early on, he demonstrates this mastery of combining lyricism, nobility and anxiety and, at the very end of the work, a grandeur both bleak and splendid. In the third movement, which is about as “treacly” as anything Sibelius ever wrote, the gorgeous flutes resemble leaves swept up in a vortex of autumn winds.” 

“In the Second, the air of apparent relaxation and genial effortlessness convey the granitic strength beneath. The ensuing Scherzo is probably the most mercurial knife-edge virtuosic movement he ever wrote and these performers are brilliant. The Third (along with the Sixth the least heard and, for some reason, never recorded by Karajan) sees an emphasis on the Classical element with its clarity and simplicity of outline. Here all the substance and most of the musical argument is conducted by the excellent strings. I loved the Haydnesque bustle of the first movement.”

“Whereas the compression of the Third is essentially cheerful, that of the Fourth makes it without doubt, Sibelius’s most forbidding utterance, austere, economical and stark. This is the composer’s dark night of the soul and Mäkelä and his forces gaze into the abyss. The only respite comes in the strangely lopsided Scherzo where a passage in F Major seems like sunrays breaking through cloud, or green shoots fleetingly peeping though frozen soil, but the gloom resumes with the scherzo reprise lasting all of six bars before disappearing elliptically. Mäkelä’s slow movement is elemental, suffused with all-pervasive power yet also sadness. I was impressed by the way this performance highlights what must rank as Sibelius’s flirtation with atonality in its wan and wispy conclusion. The appearance of a glockenspiel, of all things, in the finale adds the last stroke of bizarreness.”

“The Fifth, Sibelius’s most noble symphony, finds these performers at their impressive best. I was intrigued to hear how Mäkelä is no young man in a hurry: his tempi are unusually, and revealingly, steady. For me, the central movement Andante was the most beguiling in the entire canon: a set of rather bucolic variations in which the woodwinds are exquisitely tender in their dialogue.”

“The Sixth, as enigmatic as the Fourth in its way, is handled as restrained, moderate and somewhat dispassionate, avoiding grand gestures in Mäkelä’s hands. In the first movement, the strings’ susurrations reminded me of the Forest Murmurs from Wagner’s Siegfried. The Seventh Symphony was once described as a work to be experienced rather than written about. Hear, hear! The range of symphonic experience here is sublime. Mäkelä plays up the difference between the three adagios and the separating scherzos with the opening adagio swelling in to a noble Parsifal-like climax.” 

“This set, in terms of conducting, playing and recording, is a milestone in modern Sibelius interpretation.” 

Limelight, Greg Keane, 5 April 2022
Editor’s Choice ★★★★★