The Gramophone Choice
Les biches* Stravinsky The Rite of Spring
BBC National *Chorus and Orchestra of Wales / Thierry Fischer
Signum SIGCD205 (68’ ⋄ DDD) Recorded live at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 2009. Buy from Amazon
Thierry Fischer’s French sensibility is evident from the very start of this brightly lit and articulate Rite: a provocative and teasing rubato in the opening bassoon solo immediately hints at the sexual and the chic. The verdant 'dawn chorus' is crisp and transparent, sophistication clearly taking precedent over primitivism. The whole orchestra vibrates like a tuning fork, the rhythmic snap and incisiveness giving the reading terrific impulse and uplift. Fleet, airy, balletic – these are the watchwords.
The precision of the Welsh orchestra is impressive, the clarity and vitality of the sound throwing up detail that one thought had long since stopped being surprising. But here it is – freshly minted, vivid, and always with the footwork and bodily gyrations of the score as prime motivator. Yes, there are performances of rougher hue and bloodier thunder (Gergiev, for instance) but few invoking tales of the Ballets Russes in such high definition. The harmonic dissonance is always seductive in Fischer’s hands – making the coupling of Poulenc’s Les biches all the more appropriate and provocative.
Listening to the little wind chorales that punctuate the Poulenc, it’s almost as if Stravinsky’s primitive chants have been groomed for the salon. An altogether more titillating rite ensues. The complete score is afforded the luxury of the BBC National Chorus in the three numbers setting 17th-century texts. If they sound incongruous, they are – a kind of fashion accessory in a score that it was decreed should include singing. It was/is a kind of Sylphides for the 1920s, full of trendy allusions: the dapper Rondeau with its jazzy syncopations, the delicious insinuations of the Adagietto, and the Rag-Mazurka (with its naughty Chopin F sharp minor Polonaise quote) which is only a whisker away from a charleston. Fischer and his orchestra are again properly bracing and audacious, and the fact that both these performances were recorded live is further testament to the thorough preparation and high quality of the work.