STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
Does The Rite of Spring still have the power to shock? Seeing the Mariinsky Ballet reconstruction of the original ballet several years ago, I was hugely disappointed by how tame the choreography was, although the music still pounded away excitingly under Valery Gergiev’s fluttering fingers. Theoretically, the score holds no terror for orchestras and there are countless recordings in the catalogue. For the 100th anniversary of the scandalous Paris premiere, Decca issued a box-set containing no fewer than 38 accounts on 19 discs. Of recent recordings, that by Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic blew me away, while Les Siècles gave us an ear-opening period-instrument performance. Now, along comes self-styled maverick Teodor Currentzis with a terrific recording with his Perm-based orchestra MusicAeterna
The Introduction is entrancing: siren bassoon, seductive D clarinet and ripe bass clarinet combine over violin pizzicatos that are so light they’re almost fragile. The speed and aggression for ‘The Augurs of Spring’ is demonic, coming in at under three minutes. Only Dorati’s Minneapolis and Mehta’s LA Phil recordings in the Decca centenary box are any swifter. It’s pulsating, yet rhythmically crisp. Between the stamping string chords, bassoons spit out their semiquavers (fig 14, at 0'07" in tr 2) venomously. Thunderous timpani volleys punctuate the ‘Game of Abduction’. Contrabassoons growl nicely in the pesante ‘Spring Rounds’, where trombone sforzandos also impress. Tam-tams in ‘The Dance of the Earth’ almost leap out from the speakers.
It’s not all about power and speed, though. Currentzis gets some wonderfully glassy sul ponticello violin-playing at the start of Part 2, while the violas – in six parts for ‘Mystic Circles of the Young Girls’ – have silky elegance, as does the tender alto flute in the ‘Evocation of the Ancestors’. But when Currentzis asks his orchestra to let rip, they do so with savage abandon. In ‘The Glorification of the Chosen One’ there is a fabulous sense of tension, while the lacerating brass make the final ‘Sacrificial Dance’ crackle. It is the sense of theatre that Currentzis brings to this music that astonishes. I don’t know if he’s ever conducted a performance for the ballet but I can imagine the Chosen One expiring long before the official end!
Sony’s optical illusion cover image will give you a headache and with just 35 minutes of music for a full-price disc, it’s tantamount to daylight robbery, but Currentzis is a most persuasive highwayman.