The Gramophone Choice
Coupled with The Firebird. The Rite of Spring. Pulcinella
Renata Pokupić mez Kenneth Tarver ten Andrew Foster-Williams bass Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra / Yakov Kreizberg
OPM Classics OPMC001 (160’ · DDD) Buy from Amazon
Selected comparison: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Litton (BIS BIS-SACD1474)
Only in 2010, Yakov Kreizberg had been appointed artistic director of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. This splendid Stravinsky album is witness to all he had begun to do in partnership with the ensemble before his premature death in March 2011. Something of the influence of his two great mentors shows in it. When first in America, he spent seasons with Bernstein, whose exuberance did nothing to dampen his own, as can be heard, among many instances here, in the vigorous dance of Kashchey in The Firebird. Earlier, he was among many young conductors who learnt their craft from the great St Petersburg teacher Ilya Musin, and his essentially Russian nature is manifest in the detail of his vivid Petrushka and especially in The Rite of Spring.
Virtuoso though conducting and playing are, this is not a self-regarding performance but one that never loses contact with its deep Russian roots. The playing is polished and well balanced but can roughen to ferocious barbarity in the ‘Ritual Action of the Ancestors’ with the menacing bray of the horns, or in the merciless, almost toneless thud of the 11 jarring chords before the violent ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’. Kreizberg is always sure-handed with the balance and contrast of tempi in the work, and with giving a rhythmic impetus and cumulative tension to such movements as the ‘Dances of the Young Girls’. This never has the sense of being played for thrills, yet the effect is all the more thrilling for coming from such depths.
There is something of the same sense of old Russia in Petrushka, not only with the lumbering bear or the hefty coachmen or the hammering Russian Dance, but in the elegance of the waltz, something that that is no less Russian in the Italianate ‘Petersburg’ grace with which he handles the movements of Pulcinella (performed here with singers for the vocally derived numbers).
Andrew Litton’s Petrushka is also graceful and well judged but less colourful, even somewhat bland with the Wet Nurses or the Russian Dance. His Rite of Spring is similarly attentive to detail that an excellent recording serves well. He and his players rise to the occasion with the ‘Spring Rounds’ and with a suitably brooding atmosphere at the sacrifice. But it is Kreizberg who is sustainedly more powerful, and his album is a worthy memorial to a fine artist.
Coupled with The Firebird – Suite. Scherzo à la russe
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Paavo Järvi
Telarc CD80587 (60' · DDD) Buy from Amazon
Paavo Järvi’s Telarc coupling of Petrushka and The Firebird Suite is outstanding in every way. Petrushka is so arresting that it invites comparison with the famous pioneering Ansermet account (Decca). It should be noted that Ansermet uses the original 1911 score and Järvi the 1947 version. Switching between the two accounts, the surprise is the closeness of the two interpretations, with Ansermet pressing forward at one moment, Järvi the next, each relishing every detail of Stravinsky’s sparkling orchestral palette, yet each completely individual. The more natural concert-hall balance in the superb acoustics of Cincinnati’s Music Hall adds ambient warmth and atmosphere, giving a translucent glow to the woodwind (yet still achieving wonderful detail), a rich patina to the strings, and filling out the brass sonorities without loss of bite. The important piano roulades, too, brilliantly played by Michael Chertock, glitter iridescently. Järvi’s reading certainly doesn’t lack histrionic qualities, yet it has added pathos, particularly the scene in the Moor’s Room, and at the very end of the ballet. With Ansermet, Petrushka’s ghost reappears fiercely, even demonically; Järvi chooses a distanced effect and creates a haunting atmosphere of desolate melancholy.
The Firebird Suite is equally memorable. Again the wonderful Rimskian colouring is conveyed in lusciously translucent detail, but the spectacular entry of Kashchei will surely make you jump, and the finale expands gloriously. Jack Renner, Telarc’s outstanding chief recording engineer, produces the best bass drum in the business, and those thwacks as Järvi builds his final climax are riveting, as is the amplitude of the overall sound.
So this CD not only offers truly memorable performances, splendidly played, but demonstration sound that audiophiles will relish.