Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartók and Ravel: this program was a perfect opportunity for the Orchestre de Paris to show off its beautiful playing and brilliant technique with modernist masterpieces. From the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and its very first sound – flutist Vicens Prats’ solo – we were plunged into another world, where Wagner’s mighty, virtuous love is turned into a French, impressionist, erotic passion. Conductor Paavo Järvi seemed to get the maximum out of his brilliant musicians, in full understanding with all of them: nuances, atmospheres, phrases, in a delicate but deep intensity, till the very end – the faun falling asleep and the music fading away.

Not for a long time: Piotr Anderszewski woke up the notes with his energetic and fascinating performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto. The 44-year-old Polish pianist was playing with the Orchestre de Paris for the second time, and brought again a superb piece, rich, dynamic, virtuoso and quite unusual – just like Szymanowski’s Fourth Symphony, which he had performed with the orchestra in March 2013.

Bart&ocaute;k’s Third Concerto is said to be the composer’s testament: written for his wife Ditta, it was left unfinished at the composer’s death. Bartók had launched headlong in his last piece, and we do not lose anything from his fierceness to live. Only the last seventeen beats were lacking, and were reconstructed by one of his students. Piotr Anderszewski seemed extremely comfortable in this repertoire, as if he had absolutely no difficulty playing it through – and undoubtedly this is the case. His perfect understanding with Paavo Järvi created several exceptional moments that have no reason to be envious of the best-known interpretations, such as that of Martha Argerich: contrasted pianissimos, sudden breaks, thrilling suspense... In the first and third movements, it was the piano that shone most; in the second movement, Adagio religioso, the whole orchestra found even deeper inspiration, particularly during the transition to the movement’s central section. This “nocturne” is written in Bartók’s “night music style” and showcases the woodwinds in brief and virtuoso phrases imitating the sounds of the night. The composer and the orchestra lead us in different atmospheres to the extraordinary finale that captivated the musicians, their conductor and the whole audience till the very last, bright chord. Piotr Anderszewski played the Sarabande from Bach’s Second Partita, as he did in March, with the same sweet simplicity.

Symphony in Three Movements is a wide aggregation of Stravinsky’s different styles and of many writing techniques of that time: the Rite’s might and The Soldier’s Tale’s militarism, Prokofiev’s motoric energy and Bartók’s concertante forms, neo-classicism (ancient forms like the minuet) and experimental atonalism, ardent exuberance and delicate introspection... Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the symphony was written while Stravinsky was working on a re-orchestration of the Riteand is still considered as the masterwork’s rarely played cousin. Using musical materials from a piano concerto (the first movement), harp music for a film about Saint Bernadette (the second) and aborted war film projects (the finale), Stravinsky referred to his piece as a war symphony, where noises hurt each other, parade triumphantly, or give way to arid landscapes. He undoubtedly took inspiration from jazz and American music as well, particularly in a complex fugue where first trombone and piano exchange with extremely difficult rhythmic figures, well managed by trombonist Guillaume Cottet-Dumoulin. Giorgio Mandolesi’s bouncy bassoon, Marie-Pierre Chavaroche’s delicate harp and the whole wind section were enhanced by unexpected contrasts, their conductor’s exaltation and the brilliant score. Beyond the technical difficulty, Paavo Järvi led his colourful interpretation till the end, and the Orchestre de Paris dazzled its audience again in a large musical explosion.

After long and deserved applause, especially for the brave wind players, the orchestra and its conductor began their fourth piece with a pianissimo drum roll: Ravel’s Boléro was beginning. Sitting backstage is an interesting opportunity for this ultra-famous orchestral crescendo: placed at the heart of the mass, you do not only clearly hear each voice, but you fully understand the bright counterpoint too. Paavo Järvi let his musicians play and show off their talent; the Salle Pleyel’s whole audience took part to this musical synthesis, meeting each musician stating his own part of the implacable perpetuum mobile, taken by the obsessional rhythmic ostinato and by the musicality of the phrases. Again and again Vicens Prats was a superb solo flute and the winds glittered all along the piece, till the fantastic coda and its exciting modulation, where the orchestration explodes in an enjoyable fortissimo.

Once again, the Orchestre de Paris proved its excellence: technique, musicality, cohesion, in very diverse pieces from the early 20th century. Debussy’s erotic romanticism, Bartók’s vivid energy, Stravinsky’s noisy cubism and Ravel’s revolutionary obsession composed a perfect program for that brilliant concert, and for their tour in Frankfurt and Luxembourg.