Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & The Firebird

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & The Firebird

Stravinsky’s two great ballet scores, The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, were both premiered in Paris just a decade or so into the 20th century. Both works, The Rite in particular, changed the course of classical music forever. And it’s this sense of newness that Klaus Mäkelä captures in these iridescent performances with the Orchestre de Paris. “This orchestra is so strongly characterized by the French school of playing, and it has to do with the fact that people are either French or French-trained. There’s brightness, expression, and musical freedom, which is the most amazing thing we can ask for as a musician—to have this imagination and just being free.” While the Orchestre de Paris only came into existence in 1967, there’s an inherited French sense of ownership of this incredible music. Both scores glint with color, although Mäkelä is especially passionate about the complete score of The Firebird. “It has a totally different narrative to the suites, but the orchestra hadn’t played it so much, so what we had was a sense of discovery in something very familiar.” This is a Firebird of palpable exoticism; the shimmering colors, beautifully coaxed out by Mäkelä, glint and sparkle; the sound of the oboe, clarinet, and bassoon in the “Berceuse” is simply gorgeous; and in the work’s final bars, the addition of the brass creates an orchestral panoply that lingers long in the memory. The Rite of Spring is built with masterly control, right from the slow bassoon solo to the earsplitting final bar. “What’s amazing about The Rite of Spring is that if you look at the score, so many of the motives from which the piece is built, are very simple and very condensed,” says Mäkelä. “It almost reminds me of Beethoven in the sense that you have these very clear, short motives, which are then molded and forged and repeated, and then, through this tension, it creates something new and something different. It’s a wonderful piece because it needs to shock and disturb listeners at the same time.” There’s no denying that, in Mäkelä’s hands, Stravinsky’s music does both those things.

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