Could any two works be more similar and yet so very disparate as Alexander Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy and Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring? Russian composers wrote both of them at the beginning of the twentieth century (the Poem in 1907, the Rite in 1913), and the composers were within a decade of one another in age when they wrote them. Yet the Poem of Ecstasy is clearly the concluding chapter of a bygone era, while the Rite of Spring is a preface to a whole new age of modernism. Hearing them side by side as here, the differences can sometimes sound startling.
Oddly, except to sell the disc, the program opens with the newer, longer work, the Rite. Stravinsky intended it to represent, of course, the coming of spring and the renewal of the Earth through the pagan ritual of sacrifice, in this instance a young woman who literally dances herself to death. Under Gergiev's direction, it is appropriately savage and intense, although not as much so as under some of my favorite conductors of the work: Leonard Bernstein (Sony), Sir Georg Solti (Decca or JVC), Riccardo Muti (EMI), Pierre Boulez (Sony), or the composer himself (Sony). Gergiev insists upon providing more sensuality in the piece than outright kinetic ferocity, while making a strong case for the composition's severity through his flexible use of dramatic contrasts.
The Philips sound, originally released on disc in 2001, is not quite as we have come to expect from this source. Things are slightly thick and dark, but fairly natural, too, and highly dynamic. The stereo spread is not so wide as to suggest any compartmentalization of instruments but conveys a realistic homogeneity of sound, with even some depth to the orchestra. Don't expect a wealth of inner detail, however, or as much transparency as on some competing releases; expect, instead, a reasonably true-to-life flow of sound as might be heard from a midway seat in a concert hall. It's a comfortable yet highly robust sound, well matching the technique of the music making.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: