STRAVINSKY The Firebird. Petrushka. The Rite of Spring. Pulcinella
Only last year, 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. 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”. This is a dance in which, as with the final “Sacrificial Dance”, the constantly uneven pulse does not seem rhythmic dislocation but takes on a terrifying life of its own. 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.