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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird (1910 version)
The Rite of Spring (1913 rev 1947)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
Recorded 1960-61
SONY SMK89875 [75.20]



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These well-loved recordings appear in their latest incarnation. They are dateless – literally so as once more Sony fails to tell us when they were recorded: 1960-61. I suppose debate will continue to centre on Stravinsky’s abilities as a conductor; the raw pungency, perhaps unvarnished by technical control, of his early recordings for French Columbia, the intensity and drama of the mid period or these later impressions, generally considered slacker and less visceral. So be it but listening to them again one is still astonished by Stravinsky’s direction and by the evocative characterisation of his conducting. Yes, the sound remains, as ever, somewhat less than ingratiating and nothing will change the relative dynamic constriction. But equally every page teems with detail and colour. In The Firebird for example (the 1910 version) treasurable moments abound; the clarity but evocative precision of The Firebird’s first appearance, the sheer warmth and persuasive amplitude of its entreaty, Stravinsky’s subtle rubati, the manner in which he coalesces grotesquerie and violence, the orchestral exchanges between oboe and first violin, the superb dynamics of the principal trumpet in Dawn (track 11), the florid Rimsky-influenced Sound of the Enchanted Bells or the Infernal Dance (very close up aurally but brilliantly powerful). The list is pretty well endless.

In The Rite of Spring Stravinsky balances sections with acute perception. Again, as is well known, the vagaries of the sound picture are regrettable but no-one, in all conscience, would forego these readings for that reason. There is considerable animation and drama in this reading, real colour and drive. The Spring Round Dances are imbued with a variegated patina, The Mystic Circles of the Young Girls in Part II full of the most languid sensuousness, the Ritual of the Ancestors suitably, indubitably barbaric. The brass really cut through in the recording and the animation is never prosaic, always galvanizing. So whichever other recordings you may have this is a mandatory purchase, bringing together statements of lasting value.

Jonathan Woolf



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