The best recording
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie/Péter Eötvös
To perform The Rite of Spring with any degree of conviction or accuracy demands total dedication. Of the many recordings available, most of the leading versions can claim at least that.
However, the score for The Rite is too eventful for any one record to capture everything that’s going on. To gain a pretty comprehensive understanding of what The Rite of Spring really does sound like, it’s worth trying one choice, living with it for sixth months or so and then having a change.
That top choice, at least for the moment, is the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under Péter Ëotvös. Right from the expressive bassoon playing at the outset, this recording has imagination, it charts the various climaxes with energy but never a hint of vulgarity, and Ëotvös avoids what Stravinsky labelled self-glorification… his is the thoughtful, guiding approach of a genuinely creative mind.
Notice how he traces the architecture of the ‘Dance of the Earth’ that closes Part I, plus the dark ominous thumping of bassoons, timpani and basses in the passage immediately before it, as the sage blesses the earth – Ëotvös keeps the heat in while letting us hear virtually everything. There is also considerable sensitivity in the Pagan Night that opens Part II while, in the next episode where the young girls mark a circle where the glorified one will dance, the line is always kept mobile and fluid.
Above all, though, Ëotvös never lets us forget that The Rite of Spring is a ballet – but with a difference: this is dirty dancing.
Three more great recordings
Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Philips 468 0352
Valery Gergiev is the conductor to choose if it’s raw primitivism you’re after and blow the detail. There’s plenty of red mist, and at times you can almost smell the sweat and tribal greasepaint, but it’s also unkempt in places and not for all moods.
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI 749 6362
Conversely, go for Rattle if it’s detail you’re after and blow the raw primitivism. Very texture-sensitive and atmospheric, for sure, but occasionally also rather indulgent.
Testament SBT 1076
Even after almost 50 years, Igor Markevitch and the Philharmonia orchestra hit the spot, burning from the inside and sounding genuinely live. The downside, though, is the recorded sound which is showing its age just a little.