Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, Revueltas: La noche de los mayas. Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. DG B0014281-02.

One may initially flinch upon learning that the disc has two potential drawbacks: The performing ensemble is a youth orchestra, and DG made the recording live. Nevertheless, if you give it a chance, you may come to see that these possible handicaps are hardly detriments at all.

Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) came to prominence with his music for the ballets L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), 1910, Petrushka, 1911, and Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), 1913, the latter causing quite a stir in its day and establishing the composer as bad boy of classical music. Its pounding beats also helped shape the path of subsequent twentieth-century music, making Stravinsky not only controversial but a true revolutionary. Today, we accept The Rite of Spring as an established classic, but, obviously, it wasn't always so.

Gustavo Dudamel is a relatively young (b. 1981) Venezuelan conductor who came to fame through his energetic leadership of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, a fame that has led him to the principal conductorship of the Gothenburg Symphony, Sweden, and the musical directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

For the present recording, Dudamel chose to perform The Rite of Spring, a piece of music tailor-made to fit his temperament and the orchestra's, all of them full of vim, vigor, and vitality. And that's certainly how they play the Stravinsky, for all it's worth.

The "Introduction" to Part I, The Adoration of the Earth, is appropriately soft and hushed, leading to an explosive opening of the "Spring" and "Game" sections, falling back to a subdued yet portentous set of "Rondes," helped by the strong impact of DG's sonics. He then whips up a small storm with the "Rival Tribes," followed by an almost deathly silence before the eruptions of the "Sage" and the "Dance of the Earth."

We get a similar treatment of Part II, The Sacrifice. It is spooky, pulsating, tempestuous, poetic, red-hot, tender, and brutal by turns. Dudamel says the music has the energy of youth, so it's a pleasure for him to play the piece with a youth orchestra. He might have added that it must have been a pleasure to work with an orchestra of youngsters who don't sound in any way like youngsters but like remarkably polished, adult professionals.

The accompanying piece, La noche de los mayas (The Night of the Mayas), by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940), has a similar rhythmic energy to The Rite of Spring. This time, however, the conductor hasn't quite as heavy-duty a score with which to work, Revueltas having written his music as a movie score. It is, understandably, a little more fragmented and a little less radical than the Stravinsky piece. Still, it carries us through a most-festive experience, the percussion standing out and selling the music, especially in the final, rambunctious movement.

Is any of this more than just surface gloss?  If it is, it's pretty exciting gloss; maybe not a first choice in the material but worthy of a listen.

DG recorded the performances live in early 2010, but you'd hardly notice they were live until an unfortunate applause erupts at the end of the program, ruining the mood. Otherwise, the audience is quiet, and the sound is fairly good. There is good orchestral depth, and while the midrange is sometimes a tad veiled, the extremely wide dynamics and tremendous impact tend to make up for it. The upper midrange can be a bit forward, though, and at times downright fierce. Happily, it is not entirely distracting.

On a final note, I would note that the disc's output is on the low side, perhaps to accommodate the wide dynamic range, so you may need to turn up the gain on your amplifier a touch more than you might usually have it set.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa