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.