Stravinsky (Le) Sacre de Printemps
For Boulez the conductor‚ the early 20thcentury orchestral works of Debussy‚ Stravinsky and Berg have always had special significance. In Notations VII‚ the most recent of his reworkings of an early set of piano pieces‚ Boulez the composer is at his most Bergian. With an archlike form and prominent‚ shimmering percussion‚ it seems especially close to the first of Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra‚ Op 6: its initial stability and continuity are subject to increasing stresses and strains but they reemerge‚ somewhat tentatively‚ towards the end. It is played here with discriminating attention to the music’s constant‚ kaleidoscopic shifts of texture‚ but it lasts for little more than seven minutes‚ and for the rest of the programme Barenboim has chosen real Stravinsky and Debussy‚ rather than Boulezian reinterpretations of them.
Barenboim’s Rite of Spring comes hard on the heels of Valery Gergiev’s ultratheatrical version with the Kirov Orchestra‚ and differences are not hard to hear. Gergiev is recorded with a warmer resonance‚ but this does his brass players‚ especially the horns‚ no favours‚ and – at least compared to Barenboim – there is some loss of pungency and force of attack in the later stages‚ as well as a melodramatically drawnout final cadence. The Teldec sound in all three compositions is a superb combination of attention to detail and overall integration. So‚ although other versions of The Rite‚ like Markevitch’s‚ might convey greater spontaneity‚ Barenboim’s formidable yet never mechanical interpretation is even more compelling in music which seems to present a grimmer‚ more unsettling message the further we get from its time of composition.
Barenboim’s La mer is no less formidable‚ and you will need to turn to other accounts‚ like Haitink’s or Karajan’s‚ if you expect a gentler touch and fewer turbulent undercurrents in Debussy. I was completely won over by the emotional force and intellectual grasp of this reading‚ as well as by the spectacular Chicago sound. Barenboim takes risks‚ as in the broad presentation of the first movement’s climactic chorale‚ but because his rhythms are never stodgy‚ his response to contrast vividly immediate yet always coherent with respect to the larger whole‚ he brings a strength of character and depth of expression to this music which few other conductors have matched. Not to mince words‚ this recording captures some great musicmaking in all three works. However many versions of the Debussy and Stravinsky you have‚ I urge you to try it.