The Rite of Spring Scriabin
The Poem of Ecstasy
Kirov Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev
PHILIPS 468 035-2
The Rite of Spring Debussy
La mer Boulez
Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim
CD No: PHILIPS 468 035-2; TELDEC 8573-81702-2 Duration: Reviewed: December 2001
Two New Rites
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Neither new Rite can be considered a top-of-the-pile recommendation, although Barenboims becomes more impressive with each listen.
Conversely, Gergievs gets worse. While ritual is suggested, he has no feel for dance. The Rite is a ballet after all, although it is now an orchestral showpiece, its origins ever-more obscure to many of todays conductors (and listeners!), Gergiev included. His primary-colour, visceral-with-a-vengeance approach lacks Barenboims sense of movement, both physical and suggested; Barenboims rendition is altogether more choreographic-conscious.
What rules Gergiev out is his wham, bham, thank you maam impersonation insistent, overblown, with little or no concern for internal balance; worse, the lack of accurate ensemble sabotages Stravinskys precision of notation. Recorded in 1999, in Baden-Baden (Michael Gielen territory; now, a Rite from him ), Gergievs faults are many.
Between 051-100 there are coughs: is this a live performance, are the players not concentrating, is producer Stan Taal not listening or concerned? The gathering of woodwinds from 102 is uncoordinated and poorly balanced; an oboe melody from 131 is lost before its close, covered by incidental detail; the blur of sound here an unfortunate presage of later misjudgements.
Too often details are forced and obliterate more important ideas track 3, from 013, the virtual inaudibility of the horns, lost to over-prominent baa-ing trumpets. In Spring Rounds (track 4), elephantine double basses sound grotesque, the musics progression wretchedly protracted. From 221 ugly trombone glissandos repel; from 251 another blur, then more percussion attacks a partial and obvious realisation of the text. And so on.
This is a fast, loud, strained, superficial and, actually, rather anonymous performance; it has spectacular sound but only for the big gesture not if you want credible balances and myriad detail; middle frequencies coagulate above forte. Theres also a suspicion of balance rigging and changes of perspective manipulated from the control room track 11, 002-004, the bass drum is so backward that its important rhythm is forfeited; the horns rush ahead here too. Part 2s Introduction and Mystic circles is cloying and mawkish and, of course, the eleven double-timpani strokes heralding Glorification of the chosen one are banged out. It had to be.
The first, and only, textural revelation (and, comparing with Barenboim, theres now a conundrum regarding the first and second violin parts; Ive no score to hand) is the eerie string exchanges in Ritual action (track 13), 131-150, which is soon negated by horns overriding wind and trumpet trills from 234. Gergievs love of theatrics misfires: his tendency for pauses, devoid of pregnancy, are merely hollows the one inserted at the start of Danse sacrale (track 14, 001) compromises its rhythmic profile; note further changes of perspective at 110 and 416.
Gergievs Danse sacrale hardly conjures a dance of death do though picture a reviewer scratching the wall at the sheer inadequacy of it all. Not sure about the trumpets pitch, 353-357. The extended fermata that delays the (ragged!) final chord is contrived, fails, and will be tiresome on repetition.
This ill-conceived, crude, forced, one-dimensional Rite is as irritating as it is predictable eventually it becomes boring.
Barenboim, just two tracks for his Rite, enjoys cleaner and more focussed sound, and he has a subtlety of means foreign to Gergiev. The oboe line, 133-140, can be heard in its entirety although revisiting Ansermet (as part of Deccas very important, just-available 8-CD Stravinsky set; review in preparation) is to know a higher level of perception. If Barenboim can be too contained, at least his Rite has rhythmic variety, a sense of inner momentum, and balance is excellent. His opening minutes of Part 2 mark over Gergievs for atmosphere; pianissimo trumpets more tellingly distant. Overall, Barenboim invests more colour and timbral contrast.
As for recorded Rites generally, the composers final one (Sony) isnt the full story by any means, a useful reference of course. Then theres Craft (Musicmasters and Koch), Karajan (DG), Boulez (Sony and DG), Slatkin (RCA), Markevich (Testament), Monteux, another reference as The Rites first conductor (RCA and Decca), Bernstein (Israel PO/DG) and others all have claims. So too Barenboim.
Gergievs Scriabin is very much better; indeed I find it compelling, discriminating and convulsive, its orgasmic trajectory charted with control, impressive playing and a musical focus sadly lacking in Stravinsky.
Initially, La mer is given an attractive Impressionistic reading, fluid and delicate, Barenboims use of antiphonal violins ear-tweaking as is his concern for detail and transparency; his symphonic concern equally noteworthy. His unindulgence though comes to grief with the first movements cello melody, from 441, which is rather thrown away. Thereafter efficiency and atmosphere vie for attention, Barenboim at his best in more reflective passages.
Some transitions are sticky from 324 in Play of the waves (this passage should have been re-taken); following, hes too careful and at 434 spurts forward. These inorganic inconsistencies and a lack of tension suggest a final rehearsal rather than the real thing. The finale does gather momentum yet a feeling of regularity creeps in despite Barenboims care with dynamics and blend. From 643-649 the woodwinds rhythmic bounce is infectious; the second violins slides, 659-702, syrupy.
Barenboim doesnt play the ad-lib brass fanfares taken out by Debussy, restored by Ansermet between (here) 708-721; you hear them in the mind anyway.
Pierre Boulezs on-going orchestral re-working of his 1945 piano Notations are slowly blossoming into a work of true substance may he complete all twelve and a definitive recording. Meanwhile VII is the longest so far, Bergian in harmony and scoring with a distinctly French subtlety of tone, textural shimmer, expressive fluidity, and wondrously beautiful string lines flawlessly realised by Boulezs fantastic ear for sound. I can imagine a more translucent version than Barenboims but still worth the CD.