Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, The Nightingale. Olga Trifonova, soprano; Robert Tear, tenor; et al. Robert Craft, London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestra. Naxos 8.557501.

I didn't care overmuch for Maestro Robert Craft's conducting of Stravinsky's Firebird, issued by Naxos a few months earlier than this release, but I found his reading of The Rite of Spring more to my liking. Craft is a noted expert in things Stravinsky, having been a close friend of the composer and a co-conductor on occasion. Still, that doesn't mean we're all going to warm to his interpretations.

While Craft seemed almost lackadaisical in his conducting of The Firebird, he seems positively energized in The Rite of Spring, if anything zipping through it at too hurried a clip. I compared his timing with several other conductors, Georg Solti and Colin Davis among them, and found Craft a full five minutes faster through a work usually lasting little more than thirty-five minutes.

Nevertheless, the quick tempo adds a degree of tension to the music that is most exhilarating in places, and it does little harm to the basic story idea. This is not to say I would recommend Craft's recording above classic interpretations from Muti, Solti, Monteux, Boulez, Dutoit, Dorati, Davis, Rattle, Stravinsky himself, and others.

Even more, I enjoyed the disc's coupling of Stravinsky's oft-neglected, complete one-act opera The Nightingale, although I am personally more keen on the music alone than on much of the rather static singing. Still, it's beautifully rendered by all concerned.

The sound, recorded in 1995 with the LSO for The Rite of Spring and in 1997 with the Philharmonia for The Nightingale and reissued here, varies only slightly from one work to the next. The Rite seems cleaner and stronger to me, the Nightingale smoother and softer. In louder passages there is a touch of stridency in the higher notes, but it's nothing to worry about, really. The bass line in the Rite is strong if not particularly deep. As we have a master conductor at the helm of both these pieces, it's hard to argue the worth of this bargain-priced disc.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa