Friday, April 29, 2011

Whose 'Rite' is your favorite?

A performance can make or break one's attitude toward a piece of music. I have to confess, as much as I like Stravinsky, it took me years to warm up to The Rite of Spring. I was always excited by Par I, but I would begin to squirm and check my watch during Part I. The reason was plain enough; the only recording I knew (and I'm talking high school and college here), was Stravinsky's own, with the Columbia Symphony, which is something less than definitive. Later, I bought a cassette (so that pins us down to the early 80s) of Michael Tilson Thomas and the BSO, and when I heard that, I said to myself, "OK, I'm starting to get this." Then, on radio, I heard the version by Solti and the Chicago Symphony, and I said, "OK, I'm really starting to get this." I went right out and bought the London LP.

In the years since, I've collected and tried several versions on CD — by Gergiev, Abbado, Maazel, Boulez, Tilson Thomas again (with the San Francisco) — but none of them quite got into my blood the way Solti's did, and still does. I'm happy to report I've just supplemented the LP with an out-of-print, used CD from Amazon, and the performance is everything I remembered from the record: precise, controlled, clear, large-scale and dynamic, and it maintains its momentum right to the end. For me, it justifies the Rite's reputation as the breakthrough to the 20th century.

Anyone else in the blogosphere have any particular favorite recordings?


E. Henry Thripshaw said...

I'm no conoisseur of recordings (having and being satisfied with Boulez/Cleveland and Muti), but I share your problem with Part II. It just sounds like a varied repeat of Part I, so it lacks the freshness and sense of surprise.

Joe Barron said...

In an article in The Nation, David Schiff has some critical things to say about the Boulez recording, calling it, among other things, "didactic" and delaring that it drains the piece of its joie de vivre. He compares it unfavorably to the Bernstein recording, which I do not know, though he does mention that the Gergiev recording, which I do have, comes close to it in feeling. Schiff's judgments may be questionable (and I find they often are), but they are thought-provoking.

Joe Barron said...

Well, I no longer have the Boulez recording. Played it last night and found it was damaged. It skipped over a full minute in the first section. Phooey. It is now in pieces in the trash. I don't keep damaged CDs, and I do have four other versions.