Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps, Petrouchka - Rattle

Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps, Petrouchka - Rattle

LSO Live  LSO 5096 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Stravinsky: The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Stravinsky sent shockwaves through classical music in the 20th century. His first three ballets—The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, all composed between 1909 and 1913—brought a new and frenzied sense of rhythm, so distressing to audiences that it caused uproar; The Rite of Spring even caused a riot.

And it’s not hard to see why. Is there any moment in music more demonic than the opening to The Firebird, a terrifying rumble of strings that would make Jaws tremble? There are few pieces more unsettling than The Rite of Spring with its carnal, tribal rhythms; or Petrushka with its impish Punch and Judy puppets.

A notable voice of authority on the works of Stravinsky, Sir Simon Rattle masterfully brings these three creations to life in this dramatic performance, recorded live in the Barbican Hall as part of his inaugural season as LSO’s Music Director.

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PCM recording

Producers: Jonathan Stokes, Neil Hutchinson
Executive Producer: David Millinger
Engineers: Jonathan Stokes and Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded live in 24bit 96kHz PCM on 21 & 24 September 2017 in the Barbican Hall, London
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - March 20, 2022

Stravinsky’s three early and most popular ballets have long been staples of the Concert Hall, their popularity matched by the vast number of recordings of each of them available on disc.
For Sir Simon Rattle all three have been central to his long and distinguished conducting career when as a 22 year old he first recorded the ‘Rite of Spring’ with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Rattle then went on to record these ballets for EMI during his tenure with the CBSO and continued to programme them in his position as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. This LSO Live release was recorded on 21st and 24th of September 2017 at the Barbican as part of the 2017-2018 season, one that marked the conductor’s start as Music Director of the LSO. The excitement of this live concert is palpable throughout in the playing, with this orchestra’s apparently limitless virtuosity always displayed in the service of the music.

The first of this two-disc set contains a simply stunning account of ‘The Firebird’ in which Rattle brings the story to life with a sure sense of characterisation in each episode that is backed up with astonishingly assured playing throughout. The mysterious opening perfectly evokes Kastchei’s enchanted garden while the ‘Dance of the Firebird’ is played with delicacy and lucidity.
Rattle luxuriates in the lush romantic sections of the work, coaxing wonderfully sensitive solos from his players yet never showing a trace of self indulgence. The confrontation with Kastchei and his followers bristles with rhythmic energy and culminate in one of the most thrilling performances of the ‘Danse Infernale’ I can recall – delivered by the LSO with a white-hot intensity and breathtaking precision that will lift you out of your seat. Unmissable!

‘Petrushka’ opens the second SACD and once again Rattle shows his skill at vividly bringing the ballet’s story to life. He opts for the revised 1947 revision of the score, rather than the more exotically scored original of 1910-11 that I personally prefer, but with a performance as gripping as this few will be disappointed with Rattle’s choice. Pacing is dramatic and taut in a manner that perfectly illustrates both his admiration for Stravinsky’s music and his supreme skills in the interpretation of it. Once again the LSO rise to the occasion with playing of tremendous alertness and though it would seem unfair to single out individual solos from this fabulous ensemble, Gareth Davies (flute), Philip Moore (piano) and Philip Cobb (trumpet) do deserve special mention.

Rattle’s excitingly incisive account of ‘The Rite of Spring’ completes this compelling set in a most satisfying manner. Surprisingly, the LSO show no sign of tiredness at the end of what must have been a taxing evening, and the playing is as dazzling as in the earlier works. Naturally, Rattle’s firm grip on the structure of the piece and his players exuberant energy ensure that there are no disappointments from start to finish.

The recording quality on this release is one of the finest I have heard from this acoustically problematic venue. The dynamic range is wide and details of the scoring emerge with considerable clarity while the many climaxes have considerable impact. This is especially interesting as the Classic Sound team have recorded this album in 24 bit/96kHz PCM rather than their usual DSD.

Even with multitudinous versions of these three masterpieces available on disc, including those conducted by the composer, Sir Simon Rattle’s high voltage performances with the LSO stand out, and can be confidently recommended.

Copyright © 2022 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (9)

Comment by diw - March 20, 2022 (1 of 9)

Probably worth pointing out that there are Rattle/Berlin recordings of 2 of the 3 ballets on SACD. The Rite has a good MC recording. It would be nice if someone could compare the current Rite with the prior.

Comment by Graham Williams - April 13, 2022 (2 of 9)

You say that there are Rattle/Berlin recordings of 2 of the 3 ballets on SACD.
I am only aware of one, (the Rite of Spring) What is the other?

Comment by diw - April 14, 2022 (3 of 9)

Petrouchka is included on the Asia Tour set

Comment by Graham Williams - April 23, 2022 (4 of 9)

Thanks for the clarification.

Comment by diw - April 24, 2022 (5 of 9)

Graham, I imagine you have heard Rhythm Is It. Would you be willing to compare the 2 versions of The Rite?

Comment by Graham Williams - April 28, 2022 (6 of 9)

Sorry diw, I have not heard 'Rhythm is it' so am unable to make a comparison

Comment by John Broggio - May 4, 2022 (7 of 9)

I've got RII and have this set on order so will post soon on this.

Comment by John Broggio - May 17, 2022 (8 of 9)

OK - having spent a very enjoyable day listening to this Rite and that on RII, my take on the two performances are as follows:

The LSO account tempos are just a notch quicker in the faster sections. The LSO have a string section of 16/14/12/10/8 listed in the booklet.

The BPO have a string section of 21/19/15/14/11 but at least one player per section is "rested" for each performance; this, in combination with the marginally slower tempos, allows for a much weightier (mainly lower) string sound.

Both are exciting in their own terms and I'm pleased to have room for both on my shelves; to each their own etc.

More widely, it's always interesting to be able to turn to the composer himself for his interpretation (Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps - Stravinsky) but if I was only allowed to have one account, although I'd be very happy with any mentioned so far, I think I would plump for Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps - Fischer - the almost superhuman transparency (but with little or no sacrifice of weight) is a remarkable achievement for musicians and engineers alike.

Comment by hiredfox - November 23, 2022 (9 of 9)

Sir Simon Rattle delivers characteristically meticulously studied and energetic performances of Stravinsky's well loved ballet scores that lean more towards precision and detail rather than engagement, performances that are certainly dramatic and impactful but for this listener lacking in musicality and connection. Having said that the LSO are in very fine form with individual solo contributions beyond reproach.

The recording quality in stereo has good stage width and depth but lacks precision in positioning, individual instruments were not always fixed to their spots and the whole cluster of woodwind positioning ill-defined and somewhat amorphous. Brass was reasonably well located but horns again were not emanating from expected positions. It is also worth noting that Disc 1 is recorded at a lower level than Disc 2 so some adjustment of settings is needed between discs.

Especially in Firebird, large volumes of bass tended to overwhelm the Barbican Hall resulting in somewhat boomy and muddy bass - no crisp bass notes here - an effect noted also to a lesser degree in Petrouchka & Le Sacre du Printemps. Blame that on the hall!

There is much to like in these performances that will please those who prize the dramatic impact of the scores but at the end of the evening the lack of engagement and frankly coldness of the readings left me disappointed and not a little frustrated.

There are many fine versions of Stravinsky's ballet scores in the SACD catalogue and whilst these new accounts by SSR will please many I am not sure I can recommend them to critical listeners.