Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, The Firebird, Petrushka, Orpheus. Sir Colin Davis, Concertgebouw Orchestra and LSO. Philips 289-464-744-2 (two-disc set).

The late Sir Colin Davis's 1978 Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet was the very first compact disc I ever bought, way back in the early Eighties when Philips and Sony introduced CDs to America. I remember I had a grand selection of about a dozen classical releases total to choose from at my local Tower Records store back then, and I played the Stravinsky disc on one of those early Magnavox top-loading players. Interestingly, I soon sold the player to a friend who is using it to this day; the thing was built like a brick. Anyway, back to the topic, a lot people, myself included, complain about today's exorbitant CD prices, but I must point out that this 2002 rerelease two-disc set under review costs today about the same as I paid for the single disc over thirty years ago, and the two-disc set includes three more full-length Stravinsky ballets. Understandably, you may find it difficult to find a new copy of it, since Philips has been out of business for many years, but you should be able to find it used at a genuinely bargain price.

Philips remastered the recording in their 96 kHz, 24-bit Superbit transfer series, but I can't honestly say the sound of The Firebird is much better than it was on the old disc. It doesn't matter, though, because the sonics were always outstanding, just as the performance has held up after all these years. Both the sound and interpretation are first-rate--refined, and elegant. This is a magical "Firebird," with all the subtle orchestral colors neatly traced out in delicate pastels, and all the overt drama underscored in great swathes of thunder. The Concertgebouw ensemble is just the orchestra to convey these wide extremes of music and sound, too. Perhaps some listeners would opt for a closer, more clinical aural picture, but I prefer the strong, resonant quality of the hall reinforcing the performance. This remains one of my favorite Firebirds on record (although, to be fair, Dorati's recording for Mercury does surpasses it in my view), and it's also good to have it properly indexed at last. Yes, that early CD had exactly one track on it; this newer edition has fifteen.

Sir Colin Davis
Davis's Rite of Spring sounds equally well recorded, but I find his performance here somewhat underwhelming, to say the least. As an add-on to The Firebird, it's useful to have, but I wouldn't recommend it as a first choice. You will find more color and excitement in the Rites of Bernstein, Solti, Muti, Boulez, and Stravinsky himself, among others.

Davis's Petrushka, on the other hand, is quite good, very much the picturesque and sometimes eerie showpiece it has always been; and it comes in sound that is, if anything, even more vivid than in the other two ballets.

Bringing up the rear is Davis's rendition of Orpheus, which he recorded in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. I can't say I care much for the performance or the sound, but that may be a reaction based largely on my not caring overmuch for the 1947 composition itself. The sonics here seem softer, slightly harsher, and more recessed than in the other recordings. However, it again makes a good filler, especially to get a taste of the composer's later work.

Anyway, buy the set for The Firebird and Petrushka, among the better performances you'll find, with The Rite of Spring and Orpheus marking time for the curious.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa