Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (SACD review)

Also, The Firebird Suite. Andres Orozco-Estrada, Frankfurt Radio Symphony. Pentatone PTC 5186 556.

It seems as though every other disc I receive anymore contains music of Stravinsky or Copland. Well, it couldn't happen to better composers. It's gratifying to see they are at least as popular today as they were in their own time.

Whatever, the present disc offers not only Stravinsky's complete Rite of Spring but his 1919 Firebird Suite as well, both works performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony lead by its principal conductor since 2014, Andres Orazco-Estrada. What's more, Pentatone Music recorded the disc for hybrid SACD/CD for multichannel and two-channel stereo playback, so the package provides the listener quite a lot of entertainment value for the money, even though it finds itself in a very competitive field.

First on the program is The Rite of Spring, which Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) wrote in 1913 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The music proved so different and so revolutionary that at its Paris premiere, it (and, to be fair, the choreography) so shocked audiences that many of them booed and headed for the doors. It's no less revolutionary today, yet unlike some even more-modern classical music, the Rite is melodic enough and rhythmic enough to appeal to almost everybody.

The first half of the ballet, "The Adoration of the Earth," establishes the scene of some past primeval era. Stravinsky intended it to be evocative and atmospheric, and it is in these areas that Orozco-Estrada does his best work. He maintains a strong, always forward, yet generally unhurried pace, the action graduated in fairly well-judged increments, culminating in a well-calculated Part I finale.

Andres Orozco-Estrada
It's in the second part that the conductor tends to let down a bit. Not that the thrills aren't in place; they just don't come in quite the same degree of intensity as in some other recordings. For instance, the present interpretation hasn't quite the electricity of Leonard Bernstein's performance (Sony), the savage brutality of Riccardo Muti's (EMI/Warner) or Georg Solti's (Decca/JVC) versions, or the analytic precision of Pierre Boulez's (Sony) rendition. Still, Orozco-Estrada has a good sense for Stravinsky's rhythms, and it's hard to argue that anything in the performance is actually amiss.

Because The Rite of Spring is relatively brief, there is plenty of room on the disc for the accompanying Firebird Suite, one of three suites (1911, 1919, 1945) the composer arranged from the complete 1910 ballet. The 1919 suite we get here is probably the most familiar to audiences from so many recordings of it over the years.

In the Firebird, the conductor seems a bit more into the music, providing it with all the mood, color, and intensity one could ask for. It is a very impressive, very entertaining rendering of what is perhaps an overly familiar score.

Producers Michael Traub and Philipp Knop and engineers Andreas Heynold and Robin Bos recorded the music at the Alte Oper Frankfurt and the Hessischer Rundfunk, hr-Sendesaal in June and August 2015. They recorded the disc in hybrid SACD/CD, as I said earlier, meaning that if you have an SACD player, you can play the disc in multichannel or two-channel, and if you have only a regular CD player, you can play it back in two-channel stereo. I listened to the disc's two-channel SACD layer.

In The Rite of Spring there is a pleasant warmth to the sound that helps establish the ambience of the presentation, with a reasonably wide stereo spread. The depth of image is a tad flat, though, slightly spoiling the illusion. Frequency response and dynamics are up to the task as well, with a solid deep bass, conveying most of the theatrics and excitement of the music. I enjoyed the sound marginally better in the Firebird Suite, the environmental concerns of the venue a little better addressed. Still, both recordings seemed a trifle too closely miked for me.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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