These two kaleidoscopic ballet scores could just as easily serve
as concertos for orchestra, so intense are the demands placed, by
turns, on each section of the orchestra. As such, they serve as a
merited showcase for the Toulouse Capitole, who seem to have moved
into a new phase under their music director, Tugan Sokhiev.
Everything about this Firebird radiates colour, from the
sinister depths of the basses and trombones at the opening, through
to the glacial harmonics of the upper violins and shimmering colour
of the flutes in the Firebird’s theme. The oboe that introduces
the Princesses’ Round is delectably sweet, as are the other
soloists that gently follow it. The ensuing wash of string sound manages
to combine French lyricism with Russian fire. Almost every section
has great fun showing off in the Infernal Dance, and the
Berceuse is led by some outstanding bassoon and oboe solos.
Rhythmically, Sokhiev has the measure of these scores. He paces the
rhythm of the most difficult elements, such as the Firebird’s
Dance or the Infernal Dance, with consummate skill.
Just as telling is the way he shapes the unfolding structure of each
ballet, with an eye on the next climax but without being in too great
a hurry to get there. The slow burn of the end of The Firebird
is good evidence of this, and that’s also offset by his inclusion
of some rather cheeky brass slurs that I’d never heard before.
He is even better in The Rite. There is a razor-sharp bite
to the Augurs that really took me by surprise, and the overall darkness
of his vision inspires the orchestra to match him in their playing.
I’d be here all day if I listed them all, so let a few examples
suffice, such as the rawness of the brass in the Dance of the
Adolescents - and repeatedly elsewhere, too. There’s also
the exceptionally - almost daringly - warm string sound of the Ritual
of Abduction, the lightning-quick intensity of the Dance
of the Earth, or the way that the quiet opening of the Ritual
Action of the Ancestors sounds like an angry beast pawing the
ground, before the angry scything of the Sacrificial Dance
leads to the thrillingly explosive conclusion.
It helps, too, that Naïve have captured all this in their very
best sound, full of clarity and brightness so that everything is fully
audible. Climaxes - and there are a lot of them - are right at the
front of the speakers but with never a hint of distortion. Just as
much prominence is given to the delicate moments as to the barnstorming
ones. In short, this disc is one to live with. Rattle’s pair
of discs with the CBSO is still my favourite collection of Stravinsky
ballets, but this disc made a big impression on me, and it’s
definitely one I’ll be returning to.
The individual tracking for each ballet is generous, with the titles
given in the CD booklet, and the accompanying essay gives some background
to Stravinsky’s relationship with the Ballets Russes. It’s
only a shame that it’s at full price but comes in at less than
an hour’s duration.
Previous reviews (with DVD as V5192): John
Quinn ~~ Michael
Masterwork Index: L’Oiseau
de Feu ~~ Le
Sacre du Printemps