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Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps, L'Oiseau de feu - Jansons

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps, L'Oiseau de feu - Jansons

RCO live  RCO 08002

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Stravinsky: L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons (conductor)


Recorded live at Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 25 June, 15 and 16 November 2006 (Sacre du Printemps) and 7 and 8 June, 14 December 2007 (l'Oiseau de feu).

Two of Stravinsky’s important ballet-scores are brought together on a fine-sounding SACD, performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under it’s chief conductor Mariss Jansons.

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Review by John Miller - July 9, 2008

The Polyhymnia recording team have got the measure of recording in the superb acoustic of the Concertgebouw by now. Even though this is an 88.2 kHz PCM production, the use of the finest microphones and custom pre-amps, wisely-placed, results in a stunningly realistic multichannel sound picture of the orchestra. There is a very wide dynamic range, with some of the finest soft detail coming through, especially in Firebird, and a truly deep and detailed bass foundation. Never congested, there is complete textural transparency even in the loudest climaxes. I should mention that the bass drum, placed at the back of the orchestra, certainly makes itself both heard and felt in these works, more than a rival to the famous Telarc drum.

The Firebird Suite, in this less often-heard version (re-orchestrated in 1919), is masterly. Full of life and colour, it echoes the exotic and heady sensuality of Stravinsky's first successful ballet score. Having just watched a 1970's film of the Kirov production at the time, my head was full of images to go along with the music. Jansons makes the influence of Stravinsky's teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, clearer than many other performances, and one also detects the shades of Scriabin, Ravel and Tchaikovsky.

Beginning in the domain of Katchai the Immortal Ogre, the softest of crepuscular string basses underpinned with a visceral roll of the bass drum immediately catches the attention and establishes a magical atmosphere. There are flickers of vivid orchestral colour, and as the Firebird gains her freedom, her shimmering flight is graphically depicted with fantastic delicacy and precision of ensemble. Katchai's Infernal Dance shocks with its huge whiplash chords, bouncing back thrillingly from the Concertebouw's walls. A tender, hazily somnolent and impressionistic Lullaby, with exquisitely tender playing, leads into the distant horn's introduction of the Big Tune, and a blazingly resplendent Finale brings the Suite to a compelling and deeply impressive conclusion. One of the best Firebird performances available, always informed by the ballet and not just an orchestral showpiece.

Itself increasingly divorced from the physicality of ballet performance, Stravinsky's revolutionary score for The Rite of Spring now tends to be treated as a concerto for orchestra. This staggeringly complex score, after all the decades since its first disastrous appearance in 1913, still poses a great challenge even for the great orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw. Relatively few conductors survive its fiendishness unscathed, with time signatures often changing in every bar.

Jansons has recorded a notable 'Rite' with the Oslo Philharmonic. In terms of fidelity to the score, building of tension and relaying at least the impression of dance, this new one is a thrilling ride, with impeccably disciplined orchestral ensemble. The transparency of the recording here is a key component of this performance, for the multi-layered poly-rhythmic ostinati are heard more clearly than ever before, even in Stravinsky's own recordings. Orchestral timbres are also depicted with stark clarity, especially the quintuple woodwind section, who blend into a glorious liquid ensemble in the first pages of the Introduction.

However, having enjoyed this as an orchestral spectacular, I am still left with the feeling that some of the danger, raw earthiness and primitive eroticism of the original ballet is missing. Jansons does manage to persuade many of his players to abuse their instruments and produce nasty, violent noises (Bernstein used to instruct his trombonists to play their glissandi as if they were vomiting!). However, he needs to take the orchestra farther out of their comfort zone and take more risks, especially in the final Danse Sacrale, to produce a truly great performance like those of Bernstein and Stravinsky himself.

There is 25 seconds of applause following the Rite, which some may enjoy and think appropriate with its enveloping surround sound. Dissenters will be able to programme it out as it has a separate track. An odd feature of the RCO Live series is the lack of indication of content on the disc label - inconvenient if you do not store discs in their jewel-boxes.

A fine pairing then, and a notable Stravinsky experience, with some reservation about the otherwise impressive Rite of Spring. The recording is stunningly realistic, demonstration-worthy and as good as a seat at the performance. Don't miss this one.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Review by John Broggio - July 26, 2008

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with my colleague on this one - the Rite of Spring is just too luxurious.

The Firebird suite is wonderful (albeit short measure), with a truly hushed opening the likes of which one rarely experiences in concert let alone on disc. As Geohominid notes, the RCO really let rip in the famous Infernal Dance (I have rarely heard such a mocking "laugh" from the trumpets at around 3'00) and this is quite thrilling. The Firebird's scenes are most tenderly done, very appropriately relating the music to ballet and the RCO/Jansons are unmatched on this medium. There is no applause at the end of this work.

However, and this will be a big drawback to many, the Rite of Spring shares too many of the same characteristics. When depicting a thing of beauty, the approach and tonal lustre given is fine; the same robs the Rite of Spring of the visceral thrill of the dance to the death that the music is meant to evoke. Whilst it is no nursery rhyme interpretation, too often the orchestra sound as though Jansons is in love with their sound and not that of Stravinsky; when (even) Karajan's BPO sound more savage than this something is not right! Compared with the Firebird, the Rite of Spring has a curiously narrow dynamic range which also serves to lessen the impact of this extraordinary work. I will note though that the applause is very enthusiastic, so perhaps one just had to be there and/or the recording doesn't capture the sense of occasion...

Dynamic range aside, I will just note that the acoustic of the Concertgebouw is captured with a wonderfully natural sound.

I'd say, for the Firebird, that this release is worth the outlay but I cannot recommend this Rite of Spring - a great shame given the potential of the participants.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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