Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919); Rite of Spring

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: RCO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: Firebird Suite (1919); Rite of Spring
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: RCO 08002

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Artur Schnabel once observed to Clifford Curzon that ‘We can play a passage quickly or slowly at the same tempo!’. This typically insightful remark underlines that much more goes into our perception of how fast a performance sounds than just the speed at which it is played. It is a point demonstrated by this new account of Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite from the Royal Concertgebouw under Mariss Jansons on the orchestra’s own label. On first acquaintance, it is tempting to think that the tempos in a few key passages in Firebird are unduly cautious; but this is a misperception, for direct comparison shows they are not that dissimilar to Bernstein’s classic edge of the seat version. Rather, it is a case of momentum. There is a pedantry to the early exchanges between flute and clarinet, with each note carefully crafted and placed, but little sense of dialogue. This is a pity as there is much to admire here, with the orchestra sounding resplendent in vibrant SACD sound. Though certainly not a pedestrian performance, it is as if Prince Ivan has taken, not one, but a whole bundle of feathers from the Firebird, so that the Infernal Dance only manages to take wing in its final pages. The Rite of Spring fares much better, with Jansons’s slow burn approach reaping dividends, and some extraordinary bass drum and tam-tam entries firing things along. Nonetheless, even here, a little more flexibility of tempo would be welcome in places, such as the latter stages of the ‘Augurs of Spring’. Christopher Dingle