New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall – Klaus Mäkelä conducts.

Jimmy López Bellido
Perú Negro
Symphony No.6 in B-minor, Op.54
Symphony No.6 in Bminor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

New York Philharmonic
Klaus Mäkelä

3 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 10 December, 2022
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

For his New York Philharmonic debut, Klaus Mäkelä delivered a thoughtfully rendered program. Jimmy López Bellido’s sixteen-minute Peru Négro (2012) is based on traditional Afro-Peruvian music. It requires a large orchestra – seventeen winds, eleven brass, a full complement of strings, and a wide array of percussion including traditional instruments such as a Peruvian cajón (wooden box played by slapping the front or rear faces) and a quijada (jawbone). The accessible, highly colorful piece plays in six sections. The first, ‘Pregón I’ (Street-seller’s cry), opens with a bright four-note motif, imitative of the cries of street vendors in Lima, which resurfaces throughout. The remaining five sections – ‘Toro mata’ (the bull kills), ‘Ingá’ (Lullaby), ‘Le dije a papá’ (I told papa), ‘Pregón II’ (Street-seller’s cry II), and ‘Son de los Diablos’ (Song of the devils) – draw on traditional Peruvian folksongs and rhythms. Mäkelä led a lively account ending in a feverish whirlwind of sound.

A far more elusive work followed, Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony. Mäkelä drew excellent playing in a compellingly shaped account. The slow, darkly ominous Largo was wonderfully atmospheric, with an appropriate amount of austerity. The Allegro, jittery at first, was bursting with witty high spirits, and the Finale was similarly exuberant but more ambiguous. Evocative moments came from Robert Langevin in his enigmatic flute solos, and Frank Huang’s swift-paced work on the violin.

With Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, Mäkelä was at his most remarkable. His unhurried, balletic conducting style elicited an unfussy and transparent account, in which he allowed the music to speak for itself, drawing exceptionally rich, dark-toned sounds from the strings and extending the score’s drawn-out lines to their limits. The third movement’s grandiose and deceptive conclusion was a grand and glorious blaze of sound, provoking applause from some, but it was the gentler passages that were the most memorable, such as the opening of the 5/4 second movement, where he gave the downbeat and then gently swayed side to side on the podium and allowed the players to lead themselves. Other noteworthy moments included Judith LeClair’s doleful bassoon in the opening, Anthony McGill’s sweet clarinet solo at the end of the first movement, and the dark colorings of the tempestuous and tragic Finale.

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