Conductor makes record debut with complete Sibelius cycle

Conductor makes record debut with complete Sibelius cycle


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2022

The young Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä will make his record debut on Decca in March with a complete cycle of the Jean Sibelius symphonies, plus the tone poem Tapiola and 3 Late Fragments.

Mäkelä is the first conductor to sign exclusively to Decca since Riccardo Chailly in 1978 and, before that, Georg Solti in 1948.

He is recording Sibelius with the Oslo Philharmonic, where he is music director.


  • msc says:

    I am surprised that Dutoit was not an exclusive signing at Decca.
    Makela impresses, but I cannot help feeling that we do not need more of Sibelius’ symphonies, as much as I adore him.

    • John F Kelly says:

      Better than another Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky set…

    • MacroV says:

      It was probably Dutoit/OSM that was exclusive to Decca; IIRC Dutoit recorded for other labels when he concurrently led other orchestras.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It must be quite difficult to be a composer in Finland, with everywhere Sibelius symphonies as a sombre barrier. Give such a country one great composer and it’s in the same time the perfect excuse for lazy thinking.

  • Patrick says:

    Better be good. There’s some serious competition out there.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Why? We have at least two dozen Sibelius cycles already, several of them utterly superb. Does he have something really special to offer? Will this be in some super-duper audio quality? I would consider a new set of the Melartin symphonies, or even some of Robert Kajanus’s orchestral music. But who needs more Sibelius?

    • Andreas C. says:

      I second the need for another, or actually just an unadulterated Melartin cycle. The Ondine recordings from the 1990s that were later published as a box set contain significant, partly inexplicable cuts by the conductor, performance standards have improved a lot since they were recorded, and the Erkki Melartin Society has published new critical editions of all six in recent years.

      • Jean says:

        That’s what I also thought but it’s not necessarily as simple as that: apparently some of these cuts (if not all…?) were from the composer himself. He himself made different versions.

    • JB says:

      What’s the problem with too many recordings of the same cycle ? I’d like to say the more, the better. Mäkelä does not take away anything from someone else and it’s still a good thing to have his work and that of the Oslo Philharmonic documented. There are enough recordings of unknown composers also.

      • The View from America says:

        The problem is what is squeezed out by expending financial resources (which aren’t unlimited) on redundant recording projects such as this. One or two of the smphonies that speak to the conductor most convincingly — sure, record those. But not for full cycles where there are already 10 or more sets on offer.

        The recent Franz Schmidt complete symphony cycle with Jarvi was more more welcome because those pieces aren’t ubiquitous. Say what you will about Florence Price’s symphonies (not uniformly excellent, although quite interesting in many ways), but with Nezet-Seguin we’ve now had only the second complete set done, so again a worthwhile addition to the catalog.

        I’m sure each of us can think of some other composers where a new set of their complete symphonies would add measurably to the richness of the catalogue — far exceeding anything new that could be be said for yet another Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Schumann, Shostakovich, Sibelius or Tchaikovsky cycle.

      • John Borstlap says:

        There are at least 4 cycles of the complete concerti grossi of Joachim Alzheimer, a completely forgotten 18C German composer, but nobody can find the discs anymore and the label: Justice Fringe Inc in Southampton, has forgotten where they were stocked.

        • Sidelius says:

          Mr. Borstlap: Can anyone really be blamed for forgetting if they have Alzheimer’s? Perhaps they are mixed in with the dreaded PDQ Bach archives.

  • Viv says:

    I wish Decca Classics could be bought by someone who understands their customers and market. I do wish you go bust.

  • The View from America says:

    Oh, joy! Another Sibelius symphony cycle!

  • JoshW says:

    Oh wow – another Finnish conductor recording another Sibelius cycle! How exci – z z z z z z z z

  • Roland says:

    Congratulations! Nevertheless. I doubt Chailly got his contract in his early teens. The first recordings of Chailly I know are from the mid 1980s (Bruckner Symphonies and Orff Carmina Burana, both of them still released on vinyl).

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      I have almost all the vinyl of early Chailly’s career. He started around 1978 by Tchaikovsky 5th with the Winer in not a fantastic record I have to say even if I’am a big fan of him. The first very good things he recorderd were the Verdi and Rossini overture albums with the National Phil Orchestras and there’s a Puccini album for the ages with the berlin RSO. And in the early 80’s he did a very curious album with DG (the only one) for Prokofiev I like very much.

  • Sidelius says:

    One more sign that Sibelius still has a formidable following, enough for a major label to go all out. From what I have heard, Makela has a strong feel for this music. I won’t be satisfied until these works are heard as often as Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. I know, probably never happen. Half as often, maybe?

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Oh good. We’ve never heard what great insights a young Finnish conductor has into Sibelius.

  • Alwyn Wood says:


  • Hermann Lederer says:

    I never realised WHAT a genius Chailly must have been when he was 15 and got the Decca contract….

  • Akutagawa says:

    What is the point of these recordings, and how will they ever make any money? All of the Sibelius symphonies are widely available on CD with excellent conductors, and if people don’t want to spend money (or like me no longer have a functioning CD player in the house), they can listen to them all for free on YouTube. I’m sure Mr Mäkelä has interesting things to say about Sibelius, but is he going to make the renditions I have by Messrs Salonen and Rattle redundant? I suspect not. Far better, I think, for young conductors to stick to live performances and recording new or neglected works. Unless there’s this huge untapped market out there for a Karina Canellakis Mahler cycle that I have yet to stumble upon…

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Good choice. I don’t think there was a lot of Sibelius cycles lately in the record industry.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    But I don’t think that Chailly started to work with Decca in 1968 I think it was in 1978. In 1968 he was 15 years old. He started to make records at the end of the 70’s

  • Frank says:

    It will be interesting to hear how much (or little) he has to say about these fabulous symphonies, usually best when one has some experience to speak of.

  • Münchner says:

    Yeah, another Sibelius cycle is definitely really much needed…*yawn*

  • Andreas C. says:

    The inclusion of the “three late fragments” is slightly puzzling and it’s interesting to see if it’s becoming a trend to include them also in future Sibelius cycles, which must be inevitable.

    For those who don’t know, they’re roughtly two and a half minutes of music in the form of sketches that were discovered in a university library and have been identified as possibly parts of the destroyed or unfinished Eighth Symphony. If hardcore Sibelians are so eager to hear what it might have sounded like, it could make sense to just commission a completion based on them and the Funeral Music op. 111b (which is, accordingly to Aino Sibelius, also based on the Eighth) from e.g. Kalevi Aho, who’s been happy to complete other unfinished works, or a latter-day Deryck Cooke.

    • Jean says:

      Regarding Op. 111b: that is what Aino said when calling Joonas Kokkonen on the phone.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Possibly these sketches are the music for an organ piece that Sibelius wrote for a friend, and which he wanted to use for his 8th, but never came round working on the thing.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    So many negative comments on here. It’s pathetic. Recently, there was a feature on here about the lack of Sibelius in orchestral concert programming, although further research showed this to be far from the truth, so we should rejoice at this news. Sibelius is a great composer and a distinctive voice and I love his Symphonies and Tone Poems. It’s great to see a young conductor getting stuck into a cycle of his music instead of the usual stuff young conductors cut their teeth on. Good luck to him. Personally, I think the knockers should have to spend the night in one of the Finnish forests and left for Tapio to deal with.

    • Akutagawa says:

      Sorry, but what’s groundbreaking about a young FINNISH conductor cutting his teeth with a cycle of Sibelius? Didn’t Salonen do exactly the same thing a few decades ago with a dodgier haircut? It’s a total cliché. I’m far more interested in hearing interpretations of stuff that conductors haven’t grown up with and that are outside their comfort zones. Barenboim’s Elgar is a great example. Completely un-English sounding but utterly convincing.

      • Matthew DeNero says:

        Actually, no. Young Salonen was a thrall of the “modernists”, and steadfastly steered clear of Sibelius. Eventually he came around.

    • Sidelius says:

      Well put Mr. Caccia.
      There must be several dozen recordings of every Mahler, Beethoven, or Brahms symphony for every version of any by Sibelius. Yet I don’t think any of them were dismissed unheard with such a snarkfest of derision as some of these remarks. No one asks, why another Beethoven set?, when we have Walter, Klemperer, Haitink, Szell, Stokowski, Giulini, name your poison.
      Second, the label is going to want to debut him with something that will get attention, as he himself would want. A set of symphonies by Alfven, Alwyn, Arensky, Arnold, Stanford, Parry, Rubbra, or Tubin, is not the big bang you’re looking for, fine as they may be.
      Good Sibelius conductors are rare, and great ones truly so. Many a big name just lacks the touch. We need all we can find. Reserve your judgement.

  • Doppelavatar says:

    It seems that the existence of previous versions would, automatically, preclude the “need” for new interpretations… what, exactly, are these people talking about? Is it some Netflix remake? Probably the kind of thing that more closely relates to their limited perception…

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    @Akutagawa: Barenboim’s Elgar ‘convincing’? What utter tripe. The only thing to convince me, a well read and researched Elgarian, is how rubbish, unfeeling and insensitive his Elgar interpretations are. They haven’t improved since his first lamentable recordings with the LPO were back in the 1970s. To be avoided at all costs.

    • Akutagawa says:

      “A well read and researched Elgarian” indeed! You certainly know how to blow your own corno di caccia. Anyway, hope you enjoy listening to, and paying full price for, the Mäkelä Sibelius set when it comes out. Some of us are more concerned with paying the heating bills instead. But I suppose that’s no more than we deserve, not being well read and researched like you.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    And just after an obviously wrong article here claiming Sibelius was out of style.

  • Matthew DeNero says:

    A new Sibelius Symphony Cycle is always welcome, until there is one where every symphony is just the way I like it, and with superior sonics.