Thierry Fischer and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales have
already released recordings on the Signum Classics labels of
Firebird (SIGCD165) and Petrushka (SIGCD195).
I’ve not heard those discs but if they’re up to
the same standard as this, the final instalment of Stravinsky’s
‘Diaghilev troika’, they will be pretty good.
The BBC NOW gives a very good account of itself inLe
Sacre. The playing is precise - as is emphasised by a very
good and clear recording. For example, the rhythms are crisp
in ‘Dances of the Young Girls’ and ‘Dance
of the Earth’ is tremendously incisive. There’s
great power in ‘Spring Rounds’ while the brutal,
propulsive rhythms of ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’
generate considerable excitement. The ‘Sacrificial Dance:
The Chosen One’ is suitably explosive.
There’s a good deal of subtlety to admire in this performance
also. The subdued and fascinating textures of the Introduction
to Part II are expertly balanced by Thierry Fischer and his
players and they’re just as successful in ‘Mystic
Circles of the Young Girls’ which follows. This is, in
fact, a successful all-round performance of Le Sacre
and most certainly not one that’s merely fuelled on testosterone.
The colour, bite, drama and savagery of Stravinsky’s ground-breaking
score are all very well realised and so is the fantasy. It must
be a huge challenge adequately to convey the sound of this complex
and often tumultuous score, which requires a vast orchestra.
It must be still more challenging to convey the myriad detail
of the often-teeming orchestration without recourse to egregious
spotlighting of individual instruments or sections. It seems
to me that engineer Mike Hatch has done an excellent job in
presenting a convincing and musically satisfying representation
of the performance.
On the face of it Les Biches and Le Sacre are
poles apart and it may seem incongruous to pair them on a CD,
let alone in concert as Thierry Fischer did in June 2009, when
I suspect the two works were heard in the reverse order to that
on this disc. Actually, there are some common threads. The most
obvious is that both ballets were composed for Diaghilev’s
Ballets Russes. In his booklet note, entitled ‘The Rites
of Women’ Daniel Jaffé suggests another one, namely
that “both focus on the role of women in the rituals of
sex and sexual attraction.” You may or may not agree with
that thesis but the beauty of a CD is that you don’t have
to listen to both works in conjunction. What I can assure collectors,
however, is that another common thread - and, for our purposes
perhaps the most important one - is that Fischer and his musicians
turn in very good performances of both works.
An important plus for this disc is that Fischer plays the full
ballet score of nine movements rather than the five-movement
orchestral suite that Poulenc subsequently fashioned and which
is more usually heard in the concert hall and on disc. This
explains the involvement of the BBC National Chorus of Wales
for three of the movements feature a choir - male voices only
are heard in the often lusty third section while the fifth and
eighth movements call for SATB chorus. To be honest, I don’t
think these choral movements are the strongest music in the
ballet - turn to the more familiar numbers for that - but it’s
both valuable and interesting to hear the full score and the
BBC National Chorus of Wales makes a fine contribution. We are
told in the notes that Poulenc set “some 17th-century
texts”. I don’t know what these were and Signum
provide neither texts nor translations. My suspicion, however,
is that this is one of those occasions where the text is relatively
unimportant and, possibly, inconsequential.
The familiar orchestral movements contain some delicious music
and the present performance is a spirited one. The sophisticated
‘Rondeau’ is done well and the infectiously gay
sections of the ‘Rag-Mazurka’ are invigoratingly
delivered. The ‘Andantino’ is delightful while the
vivacious ‘Final’ has plenty of bounce and life.
Poulenc’s score is a wonderful example of French ’chic’;
it may not be the deepest thing that came from his pen but it
certainly falls into the ‘naughty but nice’ category.
I thoroughly enjoyed this performance.
There is applause at the end of each work - vociferous in the
case of the Stravinsky - but otherwise I was not aware of any
distracting audience noise.
This disc demonstrates imaginative programme planning. The BBC
orchestra is on fine form under the baton of a conductor who
is, seemingly, thoroughly at home in both of these very different
scores. All in all, this disc is an attractive proposition.
Masterwork Index: Le
Sacre du Printemps