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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrushka (1911, rev. 1947) [34’11].
Le sacre du printemps (1913, rev. 1947) [32’42].
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl.
Rec. Dvořák Hall of Rudolfinum, Prague, in March 1962 (Petrushka) and March 1963 (Le sacre). ADD
SUPRAPHON KAREL ANČERL GOLD EDITION SU3665-2 [67’05]

Karel Ančerl’s time with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was a supremely important period in the history of this orchestra. He took up the post of Artistic Director in October 1950. In 1968 he emigrated after the events of the Prague Spring rarely to return.

These accounts of the two major early Stravinsky ballets (he did not record The Firebird) act as testament to the close rapport Ančerl enjoyed with his orchestra. Jaroslav Holeček’s booklet notes sum it up perfectly: ‘His artistic performances were a synthesis of perfectly calculated conception and minuscule work with details’. The level of orchestral minutiae you will hear on these accounts can hardly be equalled, let alone superseded elsewhere, yet Ančerl’s accounts display a rhythmic grasp that vies with the composer’s own recordings.

Supraphon’s presentation is excellent, with the individual dances in both ballets separately tracked for convenience. One minor quibble re the actual product – more space should have been allowed between the two ballets (i.e. between tracks 15 and 16). A mere six seconds (in effect, a Luftpause) comes between the quiet close of Petrushka and the reedy, wailing bassoon that initiates The Rite.

This remastering of the 1962 Petrushka is little short of miraculous. The level of audible detail is perfectly exemplified by the opening (Track 1). Furthermore, the atmosphere is positively buzzing. If Ančerl’s speeds are not the fastest, articulation is uniformly precise (as, indeed, Stravinsky himself insisted upon when he conducted his own works).

Interpretatively, Ančerl seems happy not only to link Petrushka to the Rite of Spring in its rhythmic expression, but also back to Firebird (try the intensely pictorial, silvery gestures around 5’55 in Track 1). Further, this is an intensely colourful Petrushka: listen to the darkness of the opening of the Third Scene (‘The Moor’s Room’, Track 4); or the chattering of the Nursemaids (track 7); or the cartoon-like fight of Petrushka with the Moor (track 12).

Despite fully realising the elementalism of The Rite of Spring, Ančerl never forgets that this is music born of the dance. The famous bassoon solo that opens the work, here other-worldly in effect, is made all the more unsettling by the shifting, earthy clarinets underneath it. Perhaps the sheer speed of ‘Augurs of Spring’ will come as a surprise (and the horn sforzandi do not have the sheer hammered effect of Abbado with the LSO – DG 453 085-2), but here it is Ančerl’s long-range thought that comes into play. Stravinsky’s layering techniques later on are made clearly audible and, as textures pile onto one another, the recording miraculously holds its own (similarly in the controlled chaos of ‘Jeu du rapt’).

Stravinsky’s folk-like themes take on an somewhat supernatural quality by being presented in a curiously objective way. ‘Curiously’ because they stand out in among Ančerl’s bold, primary-colour, raw portrayal of much of the score. In fact, perhaps his real achievement here is that the score retains its ability to shock: passages like ‘Rondes printaničres’ and (especially) the concluding ‘Danse sacrale’ (track 29) sound remarkable contemporary. This ‘Sacrificial Dance’, in addition, has a manic quality that is most exciting – it really does sound as if the music exhausts itself and has to pick itself up again several times. No surprise, then, that the very closing gesture is so forceful and dismissive.

A remarkable document that should be heard without delay.

Colin Clarke

 


 



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