The idea is an excellent one: five of Stravinsky’s
most popular pieces, in vintage (mainly 1950s) performances conducted
by three of the 20th Century’s greatest conductors. Fortunately in this
2 CD set at medium price, the idea comes off well.
Pierre Monteux famously conducted the first performances
of Petroushka and also of the Rite of Spring, where the
police had to be called in to quell the near riot. Both the pieces were
composed as ballets but are now usually considered just as orchestral
showpieces. Having learnt these two works as stage events, Monteux brings
a special authenticity to their performances (and Stravinsky has praised
Monteux for his interpretations). Petrouchka is one of Stravinsky’s
most approachable works with its melodic themes illustrating a fascinating
story. It is surprisingly difficult to bring off in the concert hall
or on disc. I believe that Monteux is unsurpassed in grasping the correct
blend of drama, pathos and irony.
The Rite of Spring is a key work in 20th Century
music and contains a degree of savagery and dissonance beyond which
many people will not venture. Monteux’s performance is deeply rhythmic
and interesting and is a useful alternative to the supercharged versions
which are now routine. It is unfortunate that this recording (1951)
is in mono as the Rite really cries out for stereo; not that
the sound is poor on this newly mastered version.
The Nightingale has a Chinese feel and The
Fairy’s Kiss is from Stravinsky’s neo-classical period being based
on themes by Tchaikovsky. Both works, in the suites played here, are
very attractive. Reiner was a superb conductor and brings out the tunes
beautifully in a subtle rhythmic way which is a joy to listen to.
Günter Wand is not a conductor one normally associates
with Stravinsky. Dumbarton Oaks is a kind of modern concerto
grosso, using great economy of means and jazz-based rhythms which in
the wrong hands can sound dull. Wand however is excellent and in this
1984 recording brings out a slightly sinister feel which is fascinating.
With the exception of Dumbarton Oaks, I had
known and loved all these recordings from LP and there is no doubt that
in new masterings by RCA-France sound better than ever. My only disappointment
is that I have heard re-masterings of recordings from RCA-USA which
have been almost miraculous – perhaps I expected too much here.
The presentation is interesting, with a triple fold
glossy board enclosing thin plastic CD holders – a good design. The
notes however are disappointingly short.
For me this double CD falls into the ‘must have’ category.