Vasily Petrenko’s Beguiling Spring Rites

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Petrenko-Spring

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Rachmaninov’s mini-cantata Spring tells of a husband intent on murdering his unfaithful wife, who then abandons his plans upon the arrival of spring. The melodically and harmonically rich music (written soon after the composer’s Second Piano Concerto) is in stark contrast to Debussy’s Printemps, which follows on the program. Composed in 1887 (and orchestrated by Henri Büsser in 1913), Printemps depicts the birthing and blossoming of nature during springtime, though in more muted colors than we usually encounter from this composer. Vasily Petrenko leads winning performances of both works with his Liverpool forces, with fine work from baritone Rodion Pogassov.

After this, it’s an abrupt, almost jarring transition to Stravinsky’s earth-changing The Rite of Spring, especially as Petrenko gives the impression of someone coming to this work anew, oblivious to a century of (not always favorable) performing traditions.

There’s a fresh and engaging lightness to his reading, in both tempo and texture. Thus, we clearly hear the dexterous intertwining of the woodwinds in the introduction, creating a vivid sense of birds twittering, frogs croaking, and insects buzzing about as spring awakens. At Petrenko’s swift tempo The Adoration of the Earth chops rather than chugs, yet the woodwinds emerge and sparkle with delicacy and color. Perhaps it’s due to hearing Printemps moments before, but I was struck by how this passage sounds texturally similar to Debussy.

There’s no lethargy anywhere in this reading. The usually heavy Spring Rounds here has a wonderfully stringent air, while Ritual Dance of the Ancestors advances with insistent purpose. My only complaint is that Petrenko’s goal of keeping everything in balance has him over-blending the horns in the ensemble, which sometimes shortchanges the music’s special Stravinskian sonority. Nevertheless, the final Sacrificial Dance is one of the finest on disc—a fresh, vital performance that rivets your attention right to the end.

The Liverpool musicians play marvelously throughout, having caught the conductor’s spirit of discovery. Onyx’s recording captures the performances with excellent clarity and presence, even if you have to raise the volume a bit to get the full impact. No matter how many Rite of Spring recordings you possess, you should not miss this one.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Stravinsky: Bernstein 1 (Sony); Boulez (Sony); Muti (EMI); Salonen (Sony)

  • Rodion Pogassov (baritone)
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko


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