A score that was damned by critics and shocked audiences a century
ago, The Rite of Spring
is one of the most performed
and recorded ballet works in the repertoire. The hundredth anniversary
of its composition has predictably produced a considerable number
of recordings including this one from the BPO under Rattle. It’s
their first release since Rattle announced he will leave his post
at the end of his contract in 2018.
Initially I was rather surprised that the BPO had chosen to issue
this live 2012 Rite
. It was only in 2010 that they released
their 2003 recording contained on the soundtrack to the Jan Kounen
film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
on Naïve. I made
that release one of my Recordings of the Year and still greatly admire
that electrifying performance. Another example of Rattle’s predilection
and capacity for Stravinsky’s music is demonstrated by his acclaimed
live 2008 disc of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms
and the Symphony in Three Movements
. It was that Symphony
that won the Grammy award in 2009 for Best Choral Performance.
Rattle’s new account of The Rite
was recorded at a series
of concerts in November 2012 at the Berlin Philharmonie and now having
played it I can understand why it was selected for release. Although
Rattle’s interpretation is essentially similar in style to his
2003 recording it does have rather more dramatic heft and the recording
is more vivid. In the first section Adoration of the Earth
is a compelling depiction of spring’s
renewal with the woodwind giving off an otherworldly quality. Quite
splendidly played the opening bassoon solo has an earthy reediness
to its timbre. With frenzied stamping in Augurs of Spring
provides a shattering atmosphere of menace and violence punctuated
by bubbling woodwind figures. Fresh and free-spirited the Dance
of the Adolescents
develops into a dramatic reverie. In the steely,
war-like Ritual of Abduction
the continuing tension Rattle
generates becomes increasingly hard to bear.
and speedily rotating woodwind motifs Spring Rounds
builds to heavy, unnerving anger. From 2:04 Rattle vents the full
weight of the orchestra’s brutal power. Moving briskly forward
in the Ritual of the Two Rival Tribes
savage yelps and earth-shattering
pounding take centre-stage. A beautiful theme on the strings makes
unsuccessful attempts to break through the clamour. The Procession
of the Sage
is nerve-jangling - almost intolerable. A dreamy passage
in The Sage
provides a very short respite from all that tension.
In the closing section of the first part Rattle unleashes an unrelentingly
barbaric outburst of aggressive power.
The second section of the ballet The Sacrifice
with an eerie and rather unsettling Introduction
relatively calm - at least on the surface. The music shimmers with
impressive contributions from the expert Berlin woodwind. Rattle ensures
that we are made aware of that undercurrent of dark foreboding. In
the Mystic Circle of the Adolescents
it feels like brief glimpses
of hope are to be found in a tormented world where one of the girls
is selected for sacrifice. Venomous and unrelenting hammer-blows of
doom-laden conflict dominate the Glorification of the Chosen One
The effect is quite remarkable. The Evocation of the Ancestors
very gradually sees the tension cooling. Rattle generates a heady
and intoxicating atmosphere of optimism in the Ritual Action of
with its contrasting section of wild aggression.
Ferocious playing in the Sacrificial Dance of the Chosen One
twists, stretches, rips and claws at Stravinsky’s rhythms and
harmonies. Amid these unremitting assaults the torturous hammer-blows
increase in intensity until the music rises to a shattering final
The Symphonies of Wind Instruments
was completed in 1920 and
bears a dedication to Debussy who had died a couple of years earlier.
For this relatively short single movement score for winds only Rattle
uses Stravinsky’s original scoring. The term ‘symphonies’
is used not in the conventional sense but with the meaning of ‘sounding
together’. The music builds in melodies of a Russian folk origin.
Stravinsky uses the harmonies of the wind instruments in “short
litanies” of various groupings. These produce rather unusual
sonorities of a stark and rather earthy beauty and an array of clashing
colours. Rattle lets the music unfold in a fresh and unforced manner
with nothing feeling hurried.
It was wealthy patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge who commissioned
Stravinsky to write a ballet score requiring no more than six dancers
and not to last more than half an hour. In response Stravinsky looked
to episodes from Greek mythology using the theme of God Apollo with
three muses of poetry, mime and dance: Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore.
The two tableaux are scored for strings alone and bear the title Apollon
, Apollo being the leader of the muses. This is
music of such classical purity and beauty that it could be described
as the pinnacle of Stravinsky’s neo-classicism. Rattle and his
Berlin string players provide an interpretation of clarity and elegance
finding an ethereal quality that is rarely achieved. Whilst the playing
of all the sections has a strong appeal I especially enjoyed the Pas
: Apollo et les trois Muses
with such gloriously
melodic writing for high strings over a firm bed of basses. I cherished
the deeply tender mood of the Variation de Terpsichore
the final section Apothéose
marked Largo e tranquil
the string writing has a solemn understated beauty.
The sound quality provided by the engineers for EMI is outstandingly
vivid and excellently balanced. The amount of fine detail is remarkable.
All in all, a resounding success.
See also review by John
Masterwork Index: The
Rite of Spring ~~ Apollon