This has to be one of the most eagerly awaited recordings of
recent times. Ever since it was flagged up on the Internet,
IvŠn Fischerís Rite of Spring has caused quite a stir
among audiophiles, anxious to hear engineer Jared Sacksís high-res
take on this aural blockbuster. Previous SACDs from Channel
have been very impressive indeed. Even their reissue of Fischerís
old Philips recording of Dvor(Škís Slavonic Dances
Ė breathed new life into an already desirable collection. Adding
to the feverish air is Channelís active Twitter feed, which
has kept this conductor and his Budapest band in the public
eye for months, with news of concerts and links to glowing reviews.
Given that expectations are sky high, just how easy is it for
Messrs Fischer and Sacks to deliver? First off, the programme
is a sensible one, although I would have preferred a complete
Firebird, rather than the suite plus Scherzo
and Tango; I suspect it would have been possible, perhaps
only just. As for the competition, where does one start? For
the Rite Iíve listened to a selection of discs, among
them Sir Charles Mackerras (EMI), Pierre Boulez (DG), Gustavo
Dudamel (DG), Andrew Litton (BIS) and Jaap van Zweden (Exton).
The latter Ė review
Ė is my selected SACD version; as for the suite and Scherzo,
Iíve chosen Paavo Jšrviís SACD (Telarc). And Iíll be reviewing
this new disc in reverse, starting with the Firebird.
Initial impressions are mixed, with a somewhat murky opening
that blunts Stravinskyís rhythmic edge. Thereafter the woodwind
is pin-sharp and balances are beautifully judged. That said,
Fischerís phrasing is just too unyielding for my tastes; even
for a suite the music ought to be delivered more seamlessly
and with more give and take than it is here. Indeed, Fischerís
Rattle-like attention to detail means the narrative thread is
too easily lost, although from the galvanising bass drum thuds
at the start of The Infernal Dance (tr. 19) the performance
does become more compelling; in particular, Stravinsky's vivid
colours are superbly rendered, the Super Audio sound remarkably
tactile. And in the Finale Fischer finds a zesty, Russianate
tang to the music thatís both apt and exciting.
Now hereís the thing; Paavo Jšrviís reading, which I didnít
care for on first hearing, is a real flesh-and-blood affair,
with a strong story line and a top-notch DSD recording to boot.
True, itís not quite as lifelike as the Channel one Ė the famous
Telarc bass drum is just too prominent Ė but itís a more rewarding
performance in every other respect. Just listen to the way Jšrvi
nudges and accents the rhythms at the start and compare that
with Fischerís metronomic precision. So if you like your Firebird
sleek and efficient, Fischerís the one for you; but if you prefer
it with more flexibility and feeling, Jšrviís your man. Honours
are more evenly divided in the sparkling Scherzo, although
some may find Fischerís Tango a little po-faced.
I suspect itís the Rite Ė premiered almost a century
ago Ė that most listeners will want to hear. Itís a work thatís
open to many interpretations, but whatever the finer details
it needs to be animated by a pagan energy and thrust, the whole
shaped into a gripping narrative that ought to feel as elemental
and earth-shaking now as it did then. In that sense, the wide-eyed
clarity of Fischerís opening bars arenít quite what one might
expect, although instrumental timbres are exceptionally well
caught. Rhythms are nicely judged too, especially the dragging
tread in the Dance of the Young Maidens (tr. 2), but for all
that this Rite lacks a degree of mesmerism and mystery.
Listening to several versions in preparation for this review
made me realise just how difficult it is to find a truly consistent
and involving version of the work, and whatever misgivings I
might have about Fischerís reading itís much better shaped and
played than most. In some ways itís like Jaap van Zwedenís sophisticated
Ė rather French Ė reading, which is just as persuasive as a
more immediate, atavistic one such as Riccardo Mutiís (EMI).
Certainly, those paroxysms and polyrhythms emerge with astonishing
clarity and focus here; just sample the formidable attack and
articulation of the Dance of the Earth (tr.8), which brings
Part I to a thrilling close.
As for Part II, Fischer infuses the Introduction (tr. 9) with
some of the atmosphere missing from Part I. As always, the playing
is alert and characterful, the many strands of Stravinskyís
score laid bare in a way Iíve not encountered before. The constant
change of mood and metre is adroitly done, which certainly helps
to maintain impetus and interest. And when the Mystical Circles
of the Young Maidens arrives (tr. 10) itís simply huge; no question,
the sonics here are unparalleled in their range and impact,
the bass drum a thing of awe and savage splendour.
By contrast thereís plenty of point and detail in the Rituals
of the Ancestors (tr.13), whose seismic irruptions are as unnerving
as any Iíve heard. But if the percussionists deserve high praise,
so do the remarkably agile, chattering woodwind and sneering
brass. As for the final Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) itís
better projected and propelled than most; indeed, Fischer maintains
amplitude and excitement to the very end, something that Boulez
Ė for all his strengths Ė signally fails to do. At this point
Fischerís accented drum beats are just superb.
Despite a comparatively disappointing Firebird, Fischer
makes emends with one of the finest Rites in the catalogue.
Iíve studiously avoided comparisons with Litton, as I'm in the
process of reviewing the download; suffice it to say, Fischer
has nothing to fear from this quarter. As for Channel's low-rent
Digipaks, the less said about those the better.
Not an unqualified success, perhaps, but for many this new Rite
will become The Chosen One.
Masterwork Index: The
Rite of Spring ~~ The