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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) The Rite of Spring (revised 1947 version) [34:46]
rec. 7-9 October 2013, Stolberger Strasse, Cologne, Germany SONY CLASSICAL 88875 061412 [34:46]
Currentzis and MusicAeterna came to the attention of many of us when they made strikingly fresh and dramatic recordings of Mozart operas. Here there are no singers but we are still in the theatre, and at the ballet. Currentzis writes an intriguing, if at times cryptic, prose poem for the booklet, “The Mystery of Spring” in which we learn of The Rite of Spring that:
In order to understand the work, You have to understand dance; not as movement but as a whole
We no more propitiate the fear of death with dance; we do not harvest life We forget the mystic pact and shall therefore no longer summon Spring….
So we are asked to see this recording as “the transformation of a piece of symphonic repertoire into revived ritual”.
Whatever you think of all that, this is a remarkable Rite of Spring, invoking both ecstatic dance and violent ritual. The famous opening bassoon solo, along with its clarinet and horn counterpoint, is very poetic and flexibly phrased; there were few markings here in the 1913 original score. The Dance of the Adolescents is taken very fast, but is balletic and thrilling, and the players are so skilled that they can shape the many solo moments even at this speed. Thus the solo horn at fig. 25 in this section yodels very sweetly but still in time and at the mezzopiano and subsequent piano marking; this Rite really sings as well as dances. The trudge of the following Spring Rounds is at a more familiar tempo, the lower strings digging deep for a resinous sostenuto e pesante, the sudden ff from the full orchestra signalled by a thunderous timpani triplet. Then the sff glissandi from trumpets and trombones snarl terrifyingly, before the brief Vivo section is launched with some furiously scurrying strings. The Games of the Rival Tribes sounds like the outbreak of some primeval blood sport, before the astonishingly fast – but not too fast for these players it seems – Dance of the Earth close the first part.
The eerie Largo introduction to the second part, the most poetically Debussian passage in the score, shows this to be a sensitive as well as a sensational performance. There is a sense of tension in all the stillness - “motionless yet restless” as that Currentzis note puts it. Here and in The Mystic Circles of the Young Girls the various string effects, with harmonics and sub-divisions of string sections, are tellingly caught by the recording, as are the woodwind choir at many points. The alto flute’s piano cantabile at fig 93 is beautifully flowing, as are so many of the main wind solo contributions. The final Sacrificial Dance is as compelling as it must be, closing a Rite that has not let up in intensity since the opening bars. The sound is excellent, with many unfamiliar details revealed; perhaps with a little help from the engineers at times.
There is no booklet note apart from that elusive effusion from the conductor and there is no other item on the disc, which is not what the composer meant when he once said “with music one must be stingy”. The obvious coupling has just appeared from these same forces in an equally impressive disc of Stravinsky’s Les Noces, but that is oddly coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. That apart, this is a very desirable version of this era-defining score, and I can think of few recent versions that compare with this one.