Russia’s long-term neglect of The Rite and the Kirov Orchestra’s very recent acquaintance with the score make this a performance of startling freshness. It’s a reminder, too, after his punchy and over-urged Verdi of late, that Gergiev can be broad and weighty when he trusts his music. The natural element is earth rather than fire, with the Kirov basses vividly underpinning the first of the sustained rituals, the ‘Spring Rounds’ in Part 1, and the parallel number in Part 2, the ‘Ritual of the Ancestors’, is proudly fanfared and brushes the ground with noble tread. The folk stylisations are often operatically phrased, and the sad songs of the young girls just before the second big explosion receive special attention. In this respect Gergiev has much in common with Tilson Thomas, who also relishes the many cantabiles; but this is a less keenly sprung account, purposefully keeping its nose to the ground in the ultimate throes and the spectacularly delayed expiration of the final dance. Others may find this more convincing than I do, but it certainly shows a consistent vision at work.
The Scriabin sequel follows Gergiev’s inspired pairing of Firebird and Prometheus; Ecstasy, of course, was a direct source of inspiration for Stravinsky’s earlier ballet, but makes for more extreme contrasts here. Gergiev is in his element with the string of teasing cavalcades, and his first trumpeter has all the authentic steel associated with Russian performances of the work. Two bars (albeit of pure repeat) seem to be missing from just before the end – why? – but it’s an overwhelming peroration all the same. David Nice