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.
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: