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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L’Oiseau de Feu - Suite (1919) [21:49]
Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) [33:10]
Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) [37:00]
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Tugan Sokhiev
rec. September 2011 (CD); 17 September 2011 (DVD), La Halle aux Grains, Toulouse
DVD: NTSC; Region Code: 0
NAÏVE V 5192 [CD: 54:59 + DVD: 37:00]

The centenary of the première of Le Sacre du Printemps will doubtless occasion the release of a lot of recordings - both new accounts and reissues. Here is a contribution from France.
Tugan Sokhiev has been Music Director of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse since 2008. I don’t recall hearing any of their work together but I’ve read good things about some of their previous releases. David Barker was very complimentary about a pairing of Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky (review) though Stephen Francis Vasta felt the Tchaikovsky symphony had been committed to disc prematurely (review). Sokhiev’s pairing of Prokofiev and Rachmaninov also drew a positive response in these pages (review). So with his credentials well established in Russian repertoire I was keen to experience him in these two great Stravinsky scores.
The 1919 suite from L’Oiseau de Feu is well done. Sokhiev and his players relish the colourful nature of the score and impart good atmosphere. There’s a good air of mystery at the very start, even if I have heard more hushed accounts of the opening. The Firebird’s Variation music is glittering and airborne. The Ronde des princesses is beautifully done; the graceful oboe solo is just the first of a series of excellent solos from various members of the Toulouse orchestra. The primitive savagery of Kastchei’s dance is well realised while the Berceuse is gorgeous, the solo bassoon lulling us all nicely into drowsiness. Perhaps the start of the Final is a trifle on the slow side but that’s the only minor criticism that I have of an excellent and enjoyable performance.
The centenary of Le Sacre du Printemps and the myriad recordings that have been issued down the years - over forty have been reviewed on MusicWeb International alone - prompts one or two thoughts. For example, has it lost its power to shock? Readers will have their own views on that. It certainly seems to have lost its power to stretch orchestras as playing standards have risen. It was instructive for me to review not long ago Pierre Monteux’s 1929 recording of the work. That was one of the first recordings - perhaps the very first - of Le Sacre and while it’s creditable in many ways and a fascinating, valuable document the strain on the players is palpable at times. Fast forward some eighty years and not only do the world’s professional orchestras regard it as a repertoire piece but youth orchestras too, such as what was still in 2010 the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, take it in their stride (review). So I didn’t expect to detect any sign of strain among the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse - and I didn’t find any.
This is an impressive reading, well recorded. The sound quality helps to ensure that everything that’s going on in the Introduction to Part I registers carefully, the parts well balanced by Sokhiev. The stamping chords impel the music of Augures printaniers along excitingly. I had the impression that the tempo for the start of Jeu de rapt was a little on the steady side. However, by compensation, this means that when the music erupts a little further on in the section (track 11, 2:12) it’s invested with baleful power - the trombone glissandi stand out menacingly. Danse de la terre is driven and frenetic. The Introduction to Part II is refined and fastidiously balanced while Glorification de l’élue sounds primitive and barbed. Sokhiev handles the concluding Danse sacrale very well: this tumultuous section is vivid and physically exciting but, like the entire performance, it is kept under tight discipline. This is not, perhaps, what my colleague Dan Morgan has referred to elsewhere as “a life-changing Rite” but it’s still a pretty good version, very well played and conducted with excellent attention to detail.
That attention to detail on Sokhiev’s part comes across in the accompanying DVD in which we see a live performance of the work. The visual presentation is conventional in that we see a straightforward film of the concert. If that sounds dull it isn’t and the film is mercifully free of any gimmickry, allowing the viewer to focus without distraction on a very good performance.
I have included in the heading to this review all the information about the audio recording and the DVD that I’ve been able to glean from Naïve’s documentation, which is long on arty drawings representing the two ballets but a little short on some of the hard information that collectors need. So, for instance, I can’t tell you whether the performance of Le Sacre that you hear on the CD is identical to the one on the DVD or whether it’s a different recording made under studio conditions; I suspect it’s the latter.
I’m sure that 2013 will bring us many more recordings of Le Sacre, some new and some from the archives. This release from Toulouse gets the centenary off to a strong start.
John Quinn  


Masterwork Index: L’Oiseau de Feu ~~ Le Sacre du Printemps