Stravinsky: Petrushka; Rite of Spring/Litton SACD

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

In a previous review (well, several) I mentioned the fact that a lot of basic repertoire is being recorded merely to take advantage of SACD multi-channel technology, often with no justification either interpretively or sonically. Of course, a great performance is its own justification, and here, happily, we have just that, as well as state-of-the-art sonics that will thrill high-end audiophiles (at least so I assume, as I am not one of them but was mightily impressed). As with most BIS recordings, the dynamic range is very wide, and the volume needs to be set higher than usual, but once that’s done everything snaps into focus and the result is stunning whatever your preferences: regular stereo, SACD stereo, or surround.

Andrew Litton has the Bergen Philharmonic playing at a world-class standard. Sure, they don’t have the crushing power of the biggest American or European orchestras, but Litton compensates (to the extent necessary, and it’s really not) by turning in high-voltage readings of both works, full of excitement and textural nuance. In The Rite he reminds us that despite the extremes of volume and dissonance this is still a folk-music-based work. The tunes (or bits of them) really sing, with such vibrancy and freshness that you might think you are hearing them for the first time.

Such is the case with the polyrhythmic Procession of the Sage, while the conclusion of Part One will lift you out of your seat. In Part Two, the battle between the Stegosaurus and the T-Rex (oops, that’s Fantasia, isn’t it?) packs a huge wallop but also sounds somehow musical, while the final sacrificial dance, lean and mean, doesn’t wimp out in the post-mayhem coda.

If anything, Petrushka is even better, certainly the best recording of the 1911 original scoring since Boulez/New York many decades ago. Litton shapes the music of the two outer tableaux with unflagging imagination, and the Bergen players are with him every step of the way. It’s amazing to hear passages normally treated mechanically, such as those repeated-note string refrains in the opening scene, actually phrased and given purpose. In the two central tableaux, all that gestural stuff between Petrushka, the Moor, and the ballerina, really sounds like something meaningful is happening between them. You can visualize the action in your mind; there are no dead spots at all. In short, this is as colorful and intelligent a reading as you will ever hear, and it deserves the highest possible recommendation. [2/28/2011]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Rite: Chailly (Decca), Petrushka: Boulez (Sony)

IGOR STRAVINSKY - Petrushka (1911 version); The Rite of Spring


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