Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring; Pulcinella

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Rite of Spring; Pulcinella
PERFORMER: Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (bass); Berlin PO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 446 698-2
Since his LPO recording in the early Seventies, Haitink has conducted The Rite as a staged ballet, and that experience informs this new version, sometimes for the good. It means that rhythms are often very clearly articulated: the ‘Game of Abduction’ in the first part has clear differentiation between the 3/4 and 6/8 bars, and no dancer could put a foot wrong. On the other hand, this rhythmic clarity sometimes confines the music in a straitjacket: the very opening should have a fluidity of pulse and an improvisatory quality which isn’t on offer. The actual orchestral sound is well-nourished and blended, and so works best in the more sustained music, like the opening of the second part. But where details should sparkle, they are often submerged – a modern performance and recording should make a better job of sorting out the balance in the outburst at the end of the ‘Procession of the Sage’.

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In Pulcinella, Stravinsky’s tart arrangements of Baroque originals, the fat orchestral sound works against the spirit of the music, and the more sustained passages tend to become soupy. This approach must be deliberate: why else use a Verdian singer like Olga Borodina? Articulation is better in the lightly scored sections, but the rhythms aren’t always tight enough. A black mark for the booklet notes, which state that all of Stravinsky’s original source material is by Pergolesi: this has long since been disproved. For a true chamber orchestra performance of Pulcinella, turn to Hugh Wolff on Teldec. As for The Rite, Igor Markevitch’s recording, though almost 40 years old, is still impossible to beat. Martin Cotton