STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring. Symphony of Psalms
Admirers of Leonard Bernstein have never had it so good, not least the many fans of his ‘tumultuous’ way with The Rite of Spring. This involvement can be traced from a live New York Philharmonic relay of 1951 (West Hill Radio Archives) through to extended rehearsal footage with an orchestra of young musicians at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival of 1987 (Kultur). There are three officially approved audio recordings (from 1958, 1972 and 1982) and we already have ICA Classics to thank for the revivification of his earlier televised Rite with the LSO from Croydon’s Fairfield Halls. That one is in mid Sixties black-and-white but it is extraordinary how quickly ear and eye adjust when faced with music-making of such incendiary quality.
This latest is less sensational. It arrives in the context of a virtually complete presentation of the Stravinsky memorial concert given by Bernstein and the same band in the Royal Albert Hall on April 8, 1972. The footage is in colour. Unfortunately there is some hyperactive visual switching between instrumental sections early on. Close miking in the cavernous Kensington venue gives rise to too many perverse balances, the strings virtually inaudible in the shattering conclusion to Part 1. I found the grainier reprocessed mono of the 1966 BBC tape more consistently listenable than what is obtained here from ITV’s Aquarius broadcast. Bernstein’s conception has loosened up a little too, the slower tempo for the opening of Part 2 and the ‘Ritual of the Ancestors’ now apparently set in stone, although the scraping sound of the güiro (removed by Stravinsky in later editions) survives in the concluding shriek. The reading is more or less that immortalised in the contemporaneous ‘wrap-round’ quadraphonic studio sessions for CBS.
In the Symphony of Psalms the original ITV material was found to have deteriorated. Hence a few stills of the conductor and his score are pressed into service to plug continuity gaps. The interpretation is broad, more determinedly emotional than we expect in this music today. By the end it had me enthralled but again there exists a studio recording made at the same time with the same agenda, consciously designed for repeated listening. There is only a smattering of applause at the end as the maestro had requested a respectful silence. As Humphrey Burton also explains in his note, the screen seen suspended above was used to project Bernstein’s filmed evocation of Stravinsky’s achievement. Only you won’t find that here. There is however a real rarity: the 21-year-old Michel Béroff as soloist in a Stravinsky piece which I feel actually works best in the context of choreographer George Balanchine’s masterly Jewels, especially on DVD.