Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) [34:52]
L’Oiseau de Feu (1919 Suite) [21:15]
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. June 2015, Alte Oper Frankfurt (Le Sacre); August 2015, Hessischer Rundfunk, hr-Sendesaal (L’Oiseau de Feu)
PENTATONE PTC5186556 SACD [56:31]

The young Colombian conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada has established a big name for himself in just a few years, so much so that he now holds three significant posts. He’s Music Director of both the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Symphony. Both of those appointments commenced with the 2014/15 season and from the 2015/16 season he’s also been Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

This disc is the first time I’ve heard him in action but I can understand why he’s become so sought-after. There’s a good deal to admire in these two Stravinsky performances though I found a few of his tempi a bit too deliberate for my taste; others may not find that a problem.

At the opening of L’Oiseau de Feu the mysterious bass figures are quiet but clearly articulated. Whether this clarity is down to the conductor or to the acuity of the Pentatone recording I’m unsure; perhaps a bit of both. The chirruping woodwind are also heard with great clarity. My first impression in ‘Variation de l’oiseau de Feu’ is that the tempo is a shade too stolid; the grace and agility of the Firebird is not ideally conveyed. On the other hand, one must acknowledge the clarity of what we hear and despite my reservation about the pacing there’s energy in the music. From ‘Ronde des princesses’ onwards the performance becomes a very fine one. In that movement the FRSO offer playing of great refinement; I loved the delicacy of the quiet string passages while the woodwind solos are distinguished. The tranquillity is rudely shattered by the arrival of King Kastcheï. Here the music is driven, garish and sharply articulated. I appreciated the very clear separation that the engineers achieve between the horns (left-hand channel) and the heavy brass (right-hand). The ‘Berceuse’ is properly restful; in particular we’re lulled by an outstanding, relaxed solo bassoon. The transition to ‘Finale’ is accomplished on a magical carpet of hushed string tone and then the closing movement itself is initially refined and then moves through jubilation to a majestic close.

Le Sacre du Printemps has been recorded in the larger acoustic of Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. At the outset Orozco-Estrada and his players achieve an admirable clarity in the intertwining woodwind lines. Once again there’s a great deal to admire in the performance – the pin-point wind and brass in ‘Les Augures printaniers’, for example. However, in ‘Rondes printaniers’ I felt that the tempo, while emphasising the menace in the music, was on the slow side. I dug out the 1991 recording by Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra (review). In passing I noticed that Boulez also achieves great clarity in the Introduction yet his moulding of the music seems more supple. When I got to ‘Rondes printaniers’ in the Boulez account his core speed is a fraction faster than Orozco-Estrada’s but even so Boulez does not sacrifice power as a result. Au contraire, powerful though the Pentatone performance is, Boulez achieves even greater potency.

Orozco-Estrada is highly impressive in ‘Jeux des cités rivals’, not least at the passage towards the end where the primitive, frantic music is underpinned by the repeated baleful tuba figure. ‘Danse de la terre’ is fast and elemental in Orozco-Estrada’s hands but Boulez, adopting a similar speed, is simply breath-taking here.

Once again I admire the clarity of texture that the Colombian achieves in the Introduction to Part II. Equally impressive is the patience with which he handles this section. ‘Glorification de l’élue’ is very exciting, not least the contributions of the Frankfurt percussionists. Yet it has to be said that Boulez, without any sacrifice of control, manages to sound really frenzied in these pages. The concluding ‘Danse sacrale’ is very powerfully done by Orozco-Estrada and the articulation of his orchestra is bitingly intense.

So, there’s a good deal to admire here. The playing of the FRSO is superb in both pieces. There are a few instances where I think Orozco-Estrada’s pacing is a touch too staid fully to bring out the drama of the music. However, he has a clear and unambiguous vision of both scores and he communicates Stravinsky’s music very impressively. In Le Sacre I think that Boulez brings out even more, not least owing to what Dominy Clements so perceptively described as his “focus of accuracy”. Lest it be thought that Boulez’s way with Stravinsky’s revolutionary score is cold and calculating, such is not the case: the excitement is there too.

Pentatone have recorded both performances in exemplary sound, achieving clarity and great impact. This is a fine SACD.

John Quinn