Stravinsky: The Firebird; Rite of Spring
Much as Stravinsky tried to suggest otherwise, it is vitally important to remember that his early ballets had a clear scenario. In addition to the usual booklet essay, this lavishly presented release contains not only a synopsis of the plot for each ballet, but also a sequence of woodcut style pictures by Sophie Chaussade capturing key moments of the action. Naïve should be commended for such efforts to reinforce that there is more than music involved with these works. It is a mild irony then that, in addition to the CD, this set includes a DVD not of the ballet but of a concert performance of The Rite of Spring. It is fairly well, if slightly fussily, filmed, though only in stereo rather than surround sound.
As for the performances, these are polished and duly exciting. The Firebird suite does not quite take flight like Leonard Bernstein’s classic account (Sony), but it is full of colour. In The Rite of Spring, the end of each part is pushed relentlessly. Possibly as a consequence, the opening of Part II slips forward markedly in pace, undermining the sense of anticipation. For a purely aural experience, Igor Markevitch (Testament and EMI) or Yoel Levi (Telarc) might be preferred. Nonetheless, despite the caveats, as an imaginative introduction to the world of the ballets, this is a welcome set.