Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps, Petrouchka - Rattle
LSO Live LSO 5096 (2 discs)
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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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.
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