Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Guest Reviewer, Richard Landau

Klaus Mäkelä (a great Mahler 9 a year ago in Paris, opened this LPO concert with the fifteen-minute Les offrandes oubliées, by the young Olivier Messiaen, an affecting piece in three parts, the outer sections slow and contemplative. ‘The Cross’ is lamenting in mood, while the last, ‘The Eucharist’, addresses Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for the sake of mankind. In between is ‘The Sin’, which the composer identified as “the forgetting of God”. Mäkelä’s slow pacing of the outer movements gave full expression to their respective moods of grief and generous love, aided by highly sensitive playing, wondrously expressive. ‘The Sin’ was ferocious, given with terrific attack.

Truls Mørk was in town to play Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto. While the orchestral chords that open the work had a distinct whiplash effect, Mørk’s contribution was generally striking for an abiding tenderness, and with impeccable intonation he not only easily negotiated the technical challenges but brought a heart-easing quality to the more confiding, rhapsodic writing. In this he was blessed with Mäkelä’s accompaniment, which was notable for its attentiveness and bursts of passion, as well as for occasionally revealing hitherto unnoticed details. The tripping minuet-like opening of the second movement was beautifully done, and the sense of collaboration continued into the Finale; its rousing conclusion had all the brio and aplomb that marked the Concerto’s opening. For an extra, Mørk played Song of the Birds, a traditional Catalan number much associated with Pablo Casals.

Following the interval, Debussy, first the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, in a reading that was notable for the contributions of flautist Charlotte Ashton and oboist Ian Hardwick, among others. Mäkelä ensured that textures were beautifully clear, and that the score’s omnipresent trance-like element – replete with an aura of sensuality – was steadily maintained, with a markedly heightened raptness towards the close. Finally, La mer, during which it was clear that Makala’s accent would be on clarity of textures and striking effects – shimmering, captivating – the final movement a display of deep menacing power, a storm of tension and glorious abandon.

The LPO played wonderfully for its guest and the pleasure on both sides was apparent. Mäkelä’s next concert with the LPO is Feb 26, Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto (Daniel Lozakovich) and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.