May 29, 2013

Rattle's Polished Rite of Spring

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
By Niels Swinkels

Rattle Rite of SpringThe riot that supposedly erupted on May 29, 1913, during the opening performance of Diaghilev’s ballet The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris may be largely apocryphal, yet it gave Stravinsky’s seminal score a legendary status that now, a century later, is cause for a celebration that’s hard to escape.

The centenary celebration of Rite has been spread out over all but the entire 2012–2013 concert season, which is filled with symposia, festivals, new productions, revival productions, a special Centenary Edition (which includes an annotated facsimile of the 1913 full-score autograph), concerts on 1913-period instruments, and numerous performances by orchestras and ballet companies all over the world. Of course, the record companies jumped on the bandwagon by publishing new recordings or reissues from their archives and back catalogs.

Listen To The Music

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Among the hundreds of recordings of The Rite of Spring that are currently available is a new disc by Simon Rattle and his Berlin Philharmonic on EMI Classics (50999 7 23611 2 2), which also includes Symphonies of Wind Instruments and the neoclassical ballet Apollon musagète.

The three pieces have been recorded during different live concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie — the Symphonies of Wind Instruments as early as 2007; the Rite only last November — but they may well have been studio recordings, for there’s no audience to be heard on the disc, not even applause.

As I expected, Rattle and his Berliners give excellent accounts of Stravinsky’s compositions, though Rattle’s Rite lacks much of the primitive rawness and mysterious immediacy of what’s perhaps my favorite recording of Stravinsky’s masterpiece: Valery Gergiev’s with the Kirov Orchestra on Philips (289 468 035-2) from 2001, which is paired with Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy.

This disc can be a great introduction to two of Stravinsky’s later works, as well as a valuable addition to your music library. Rattle’s version is more polished than Gergiev’s (maybe even too much so), but it’s also more transparent, exposing musical background details that are otherwise often barely audible.

That said, if your CD collection already contains decent versions of The Rite of Spring and the other compositions that are on the new Rattle/BPO disc, there’s no need to rush out and get this one; it won’t add much to your listening experience. But if you don’t already own Apollon musagète and Symphonies of Wind Instruments on CD, and don’t mind acquiring another Rite of Spring, this disc can be a great introduction to two of Stravinsky’s later works, as well as a valuable addition to your music library.

Native Dutchman Niels Swinkels is a freelance journalist, musicologist, and sound engineer. Before moving to San Francisco, he was the arts editor and senior classical music/opera critic for Brabants Dagblad, a regional daily newspaper in the Netherlands. As a freelance writer and sound engineer, he currently works for San Francisco Opera, KALW Local Public Radio, Elevation Online, Earprint Productions, and others.