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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)
Rite of Spring – complete ballet (1913)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872 – 1915)

The Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54 (1907)
Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
recorded in the Festspielhaus, Baden Baden, 24-27 July 1999 - DDD
PHILIPS 468 035-2 [55.20] Fullprice

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Gergiev and his Orchestra took the Rite on tour in 1999 and appeared at the Royal Festival Hall with it. The reception there was ecstatic (a few misguided souls excluded) and this recording was made in Germany during this tour. The main criticism of the live concert in London was that the playing of the orchestra was a little imprecise. By recording live at two performances and making one from two seems to have solved this (admittedly small) problem completely.

Like a few other ensembles around today, the main benefit of this combination is the presence of the Music Director in front of his orchestra sufficiently frequently for the ensemble to know exactly what the conductor wants, and being sufficiently motivated to deliver this. Gergiev certainly does this with a vengeance as he is conducting this orchestra on a very frequent basis whether it is with Symphonic, Opera or Ballet music. This experience of playing together pays enormous dividends and these are clearly evident from the beginning. There are numbers of very slight rhythmic quirks here and there and these are followed to a man (or woman) as though they are all playing as the same one musician.

The recording is, in addition, extremely impressive with great depth and clarity – indeed at some points it sounds as though the bass drum is on the move and is in your listening room. Judging also by the absolute silence at the end, there were also some patching sessions. Although the sleeve notes say that it is a live recording, I cannot believe that the German audience was so unmoved that absolute silence reigned at the end. Maybe the hall was full of our dissenters from London.

After the Rite’s first performance in Paris (a pretty scrappy affair by all accounts) orchestral standards have been getting better and better, until today Stravinsky’s score holds little terrors for even youth orchestras. What is missing from many modern performances of the Rite is the primeval excitement of the score. Too often it is an efficient run through as if to say "look and listen at us – we can play this easily". This is rather missing the point, as it should sound as though there has been a struggle in putting the score in front of the audience. In this performance, what seems to have been done is that this struggle is presented as raw power.

I have previously admired Stravinsky’s own recording (on Sony Classics), or Dorati’s with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra on Mercury, or Leonard Bernstein’s early recording with the New York Philharmonic, all of which exhibit this struggle. Gergiev’s present disc will probably now replace these in my listening material.

The remaining work on the disc is Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy a strange work which couldn’t make up its mind whether to be a symphonic poem or a symphony. After a number of changes, it was first heard in 1907 - only seven years before the Rite, but sounding many more. Here we are in Russian romantic mode with a wonderfully orchestrated work utilising an orchestra similar in sized to the Rite. Am I alone, however, in finding little melodic inspiration in most of Scriabin’s works ? Still, you will have to go some way to hear this work better played and recorded. The fault here, if you find one, is not in Gergiev and his orchestra but with Scriabin.

An absolutely magnificent Rite of Spring – well worth buying and enjoying.

John Phillips



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