Stravinsky: Rite of Spring; Violin Concerto; Symphonies of Wind Instruments; Zvezdoliki (King of the Stars)

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: Rite of Spring; Violin Concerto; Symphonies of Wind Instruments; Zvezdoliki (King of the Stars)
PERFORMER: Jennifer Frautschi (violin); Gregg Smith Singers; Orchestra of St Luke’s; Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble; Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557508
Zvezdoliki and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments are both reissues, but the Violin Concerto and the Rite are brand new recordings, part of Naxos’s continuing commitment to Robert Craft. It’s characteristic that his booklet note on the Concerto meticulously points out corrections to the metronome marks, and it’s certainly a rhythmic performance – one of the tightest I’ve heard. This works well in the outer movements, but it’s less successful in the two central Arias, despite Jennifer Frautschi’s passionate and accurate playing. Craft doesn’t always let the music breathe, unlike Paul Sacher: and Sacher’s soloist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, has a flexibility and breadth of tone that puts even Frautschi in the shade.

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The Rite is curiously disappointing. Despite accurate, well-balanced playing, and a detailed recording with depth and a wide dynamic range, its visceral excitement remains muted. The introductory section, like much of the piece, sounds careful, and never sends shivers of expectation up the spine, while the ‘Spring Rounds’ seem too fast to have enough impact. I say seem, because Stravinsky’s own recording is at much the same speed, but has a leaner orchestral sound and more tensile energy. As does Boulez in either of his Cleveland recordings, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Gergiev’s elemental version with his Kirov Orchestra. He screws up the tension at the ends of both parts, bringing the ‘Sacrificial Dance’ to a desperate climax that Craft, you feel, would find unseemly. Martin Cotton