Orchestre de Paris/Klaus Mäkelä at Carnegie Hall – The Firebird & The Rite of Spring

The Firebird
The Rite of Spring

Orchestre de Paris
Klaus Mäkelä

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 16 March, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Back in Carnegie Hall since its 2003 concert with Christoph Eschenbach, the Orchestre de Paris, with current Music Director Klaus Mäkelä, performed two of Igor Stravinsky’s most popular scores. The evening opened with a vibrant and compelling account of The Firebird, in its original 1910 version. The conductor’s balletic and clear-cut conducting style and the orchestra’s sensuous and sophisticated coloration proved an especially good fit for the radiant and imaginative score which follows the mythical Prince Ivan as he battles the evil sorcerer Kashchei with the help of the magical Firebird. A peerless pianissimo opening, the haunting notes from a cello layered with silky sounds from the double basses, set the mystically menacing mood that permeated a breathtaking performance. The many memorable sequences included the wonderfully fluttering ‘Firebird’s Dance’, the glowing, folk-like melody of the ‘Princesses’ Khorovod’, the ferocious ‘Entrance  of Kashchei’, the biting ‘Infernal Dance’, the lilting bassoon solo in the ‘Lullaby’, and the gloriously expanding conclusion, with a riveting bass drum underlining the dramatic closing chords.

The Rite of Spring was equally successful. Mäkelä shaped a brilliant reading that conveyed all the barbarism inherent in the tale depicting ancient pagan rituals involving human sacrifice but still managed to be clear and precise. From the first notes of the bassoon’s daunting opening solo to the final thump of the timpani in the ‘Sacrificial Dance’, the musicians played with remarkable abandon. Part One unfolded with clarity and drama as Mäkelä drawing out all the primitive rhythms and dissonances. With traditional French facility frequently in evidence, the woodwinds were especially enthralling. A high point of the first part was ‘Spring Rounds’ where the collective din of the instruments reached a breaking point. But the playing was most alive in the concluding ‘Dance of the Earth’, which benefited from the powerful work of the percussionists. The more lyrical passages in the second part were perfectly balanced and atmospheric, and when more primal and relentless energy was required the reading never faltered. A whirlwind ‘Sacrificial Dance’ brought the evening to a thrilling end.

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