STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring. Firebird Suite
The languid opening bassoon solo, which in this instance more evokes a humid rainforest than an unforgiving patch of pagan Russia, sets the scene: Iván Fischer’s The Rite of Spring is sensual and revealing, and, although amply spirited, is less high-energy than Markevitch, Dorati and a handful of others. Those on the trail of specific detail will be kept busy. The balance of brass, woodwinds and string in ‘Spring Rounds’ suggests a community of equals in perfect accord; and, while the music breathes heavily, you’re still aware of its roots in the world of dance. I doubt that the constituent parts of ‘Procession of the Sage’, including converging cross-rhythms and an audible guiro (a scraper that looks like a huge insect), have ever sounded on disc with as much clarity. There’s an elasticity to Fischer’s conducting that keeps Stravinsky’s score pliable, though when the percussion give their all (as in ‘Dance of the Earth’), the floor shakes. Even after the passage of almost a century, the opening of ‘The Sacrifice’ (the ballet’s second half) is a world apart – strange, uncharted and chilling, its only light a grudging glimmer from a distant planet. Of course I’m talking blatant sci-fi here, which was far from Stravinsky’s intention, but you can blame Fischer: he’s the one who underlines the otherworldly magic. ‘Ritual Action of the Ancestors’ is kept on a relatively tight rein, happily avoiding the hammy excesses of certain rivals.
In a word, this is a ‘musical’ performance, one where every note seems an inevitable outgrowth of its predecessor. It’s not the most viscerally exciting version on disc (Gergiev, Dorati and Markevitch share that honour between them) but, as with Peter Eötvös and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (2004, BMC – another excellent production), avoids what Stravinsky himself labelled self-glorification. The 1919 Firebird Suite extends the sensation of everything fitting beautifully together, especially in ‘The Firebird’s Dance’, while both Scherzo à la russe (symphonic version) and the Tango (orchestral version) wear an appropriately wry smile. Channel Classics’ engineering is superb.