> Stravinsky Sacre, Petrouchka Temirkanov [CT]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Pétrouchka (1919 version)
Le Sacre du Printemps

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov
Recorded 1988 Venue not given
RCA RED SEAL 74321 68020 2 DDD [71:17]

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It is perhaps unfortunate that for the four weeks or so prior to listening to this disc I had been hooked on the recent Philips release of "Le Sacre" (468 035-2) by Valery Gergiev and his magnificent Kirov forces (see review by John Phillips). It cannot be denied that Gergiev takes certain liberties with the score, yet he is also prepared to take chances that can come off with spectacular results. This is notably the case with some of his tempi and if anyone needs an example of his willingness to experiment just listen to the very last few bars. The length of the silent pause may not be for everyone but the garish assault on the final savage quaver is astonishing. Above all however Gergiev gives us a performance of raw, primeval savagery the like of which I have rarely heard. It is quite simply one of those rare recordings that after years of listening to a work leaves one with the impression of having heard something new. A major achievement indeed.

In comparison Temirkanovís performance is the musical opposite. The playing is, on the whole, reasonably competent from a technical point of view but somewhat unadventurous and lacking in interpretative personality. There is a sense that the conductor is either not willing, or the players unable, to truly let go of their musical inhibitions. Where Gergievís percussion and bass drums shake the earth to its very core Temirkanovís simply thump. Where Gergievís tubas roar and trombones snarl and sneer, Temirkanovís simply give us plenty of noise. Compare the opening bars of The Augurs of Spring early in the work and the difference is at once apparent. The RPO lack the weight and sense of orgiastic power that the Kirov at once captures. Admittedly the Kirov are aided by a recording of hugely impressive dynamic range but ultimately it is the virtuosity of the playing and the sheer cumulative power of the performance that come through.

Yes, I know that I am not comparing like for like here. Gergiev comes at full price and Temirkanov at budget price, but in a field of numerous fine performances the competition is tough. Importantly, Stravinskyís own recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, available at mid price on Sony, is not only a terrific (though not faultless) performance but also serves as a fascinating historic document. My advice to anyone in the market for a first class recording of Le Sacre is to go for the composerís own or invest a little extra for the Gergiev. For my money itís the best modern performance by a margin.

The 1919 version of Pétrouchka that opens the disc has its moments but ultimately suffers from many of the same faults as Le Sacre, namely playing that simply lacks refinement and character. The performance gets off on the wrong foot somewhat, with the hustle and bustle of The Shrove-tide Fair failing to live up to its vivace marking in spirit. The opening bars are also seriously marred by a horribly recessed string sound that had me cringing in my chair. The Russian Dance that follows fares slightly better but overall this is a performance that I will have little incentive to return to.

At around a fiver this is a disc that could be useful as a budget introduction to Stravinskyís ballet music for those new to the composer. Otherwise I am afraid there is little to commend it.

Christopher Thomas

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