Prior to The Rite of Spring’s publication, several of the original score’s details were altered to mitigate its perceived difficulties. Here, now, is a chance to hear the Rite close to how Stravinsky originally conceived it for its 1913 premiere in Paris – an enticing prospect in itself: more than that, this is an exciting, visceral performance, culminating in a ferocious final dance.
Professional orchestras today can perform the Rite virtually on autopilot; so last year, the ballet’s centenary, it made sense for François-Xavier Roth and his orchestra Les Siècles to attempt Stravinsky’s more challenging original score, as rehearsed by Pierre Monteux for the Rite’s premiere.There are some obvious differences: two passages are pitched an octave lower than in the standard version; and in the opening pages of the sacrificial dance, strings ambitiously alternate pizzicato with bowed notes. Most striking, though, is the revelation of hearing the Rite played by the instruments of its time. The austere soundworld of the beginning, with timbres conjured as it were from a past civilisation, is utterly unlike anything else from that era. Even using brass instruments not as powerful as the American-style monsters that are standard today proves an advantage, as they balance more readily with strings and woodwind, allowing far more evocative detail to be heard.
Petrushka seems, if anything, even more lively, perhaps because the technical demands are not quite so great, though its ebullient character surely helps too.