Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stravinsky - Apollo, The Rite of Spring - Simon Rattle, CBSO

Stravinsky - Apollo, The Rite of Spring - Simon Rattle, CBSO
Orchestral | Eac, APE, cue | log, scans | 1 CD, 229 MB
April 10, 1990 | EMI | FF

Stravinsky said jokingly that the opening bassoon solo in The Rite of Spring ought to be transposed up a semitone every few years, so that it would never sound easy just because bassoonists had got used to it. He was hinting at a real problem: in a world in which The Rite now counts as a repertory work, in which every orchestra worth calling an orchestra can play it, how can we regain the appalling, raw impact of its explosion on the musical world, at least part of which must have been due to its unprecedented difficulty? Not, for sure, by playing it faster, louder and with greater mechanical precision than ever before: the limit has been reached; some passages can now be played at such a speed that all-important details of accent and articulation are obscured in the rush. We are in danger of the work turning into a mere display piece for the virtuosity of orchestras and the vanity of conductors.
Simon Rattle takes the culminating "Sacrificial Dance" noticeably slower than most; I cannot be sure how close to or remote from the metronome mark he is (only a metronome with a degree in higher mathematics could be sure, with the timesignature changing every bar) but he is certainly a deal slower at this point than Stravinsky himself in his 1960 CBS recording. The effect is not lethargic, nor does it suggest that the CBSO can play it no faster, but it is shocking. More than in any recent performance that I can remember it really does suggest a sacrificial victim dancing herself to death, at the point of utmost exhaustion being brutally rallied, and then a sense that rhythm itself takes over the dancer's body, unconscious now but still spasmodically twitching, and yet still possessing (those descending horn figures in the second part of the dance) a tortured grace. It is strangely moving, and quite characteristic of Rattle's approach which, although extremely precise as to note-values and balance (immaculately clear textures; complex chords that you could virtually take down as from dictation) is more concerned with spirit than letter. You might find that the "Glorification of the Chosen Victim", say, lacks a bit of excitement at his tempo, but the excitement of this scene is massively savage, the excitement of a crowd anticipating blood, and Rattle makes sure you know it. He is as good at the other end of the spectrum, where for example the 25 seconds or so of the "Adoration of the Earth" are marked off by the long, awestruck silence that Stravinsky asks for, and conclude with a magically glistening string chord; the tiny pool of stillness sounds like the work's epicentre.
There is no question at this stage of choosing a 'best available' Rite of Spring; I cannot say that Rattle's is 'better' than the composer's own astonishingly precise yet ferociously powerful account, or than Mackerras's outstanding version for EMI Eminence (in matters like the clarity of texture amid sustained uproar as the "Procession of the Sage" arrives on stage, or the superbly controlled crescendo of the "Dance of the Earth," Mackerras is arguably `better' than Rattle), but Rattle's is a reading that startles you again and again with the audacious rightness of Stravinsky's instinct (he knew how it sounded, he said, before he knew how to write it down).
Frabeck de Burgos's reading is extremely brilliant, extremely beautiful, sometimes a touch more deftly played than Rattle's (Friihbeck's tempos are often faster, seldom exaggeratedly so; they are the 'conventional' tempos, you might say); its recording is a bit less spacious, a shade more metallic. It is a fine performance, but not as urgently impact-renewing as Rattle's, Mackerras's or Stravinsky's own. Couplings, however, alter cases, and it would be a pity if Friihbeck's Petrushka were to be ignored because his Rite of Spring is very good rather than exceptional. Together with the rhythmic and harmonic innovations of Petrushka, Stravinsky invented a very specific orchestra for it: the double-basses are silent for about 900 of its 1,300 or so bars and very sparingly used elsewhere, giving a bass-less quality to some pages and disconcerting prominence on others to the bass clarinet, bassoons and cellos, the latter often divided. The rather unstable brilliance that results (in this performance one understands why Stravinsky described the score as a "criticism" of the nineteenth-century Russian nationalists) is admirably distilled by Friihbeck in a reading of vivid drama and pungent characterization.
Rattle's coupling, however, is no less desirable, an Apollo of clean grace, pure colour and scrupulous attention to dynamic markings. It has sinew as well, and a dancing line of a particular character that makes me suspect that Rattle has studied Balanchine's choreography of the work. I miss that quality very slightly in Lubbock's otherwise first-class reading for ASV (and to my ear— though not to others, as I have been furiously reminded more than once—it is wholly absent from Karajan's gross and unctuous DG version). Together with its splendid coupling, Rattle's Apollo is one of the most accomplished recordings he has made so far. M.E.O. (Gramophone)

CD Content

The Rite of Spring


  1. File Factory?????
    What happened to Rapidshare? Now that I scraped together a few cents to buy Rapidshare I won't be doing the same for FF.
    Thanks, Otto.

  2. It is impossible to have a decent download from File Factory. That's a shame.

  3. Thanks Otto, great uploads. BTW, for rest of you- be grateful for opportunity to download and listen wonderful music, so, FF is OK.



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