The Firebird; Petrushka; The Rite of Spring
London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO 5096 (CD/SACD) 116:30 mins (2 discs)
In the booket note, Simon Rattle tells us that performing these three great Stravinsky ballet scores in a single programme was an idea he put several decades ago to the then management of the Philharmonia, who turned it down flat. The idea endured; and these 2017 live recordings come from the opening concerts of Rattle’s tenure as LSO music director.
The result is a remarkable feat by any standards. The orchestra responds to the challenge with a spectacular display of sustained firepower, rhythmic control and individual artistry. And there’s much evidence, too, of Rattle’s superlative ear for detail, bringing out exactly what the composer has written down: the atmospheric Introduction to Part 2 of The Rite of Spring comes across with mesmerising vividness. Some of the tempos (as in ‘Dance of the Earth’) feel perhaps a notch too quick for the music’s full momentum to build, but in the context of the occasion’s heady excitement, this is a small reservation. A slightly less small one concerns the wider sense, in the other two ballets, of something missing – as if these are performances, however impressively delivered, of abstract works rather than (also) masterpieces of musical storytelling. The Firebird needs to take you on a journey through its Russian fairytale world, just as Petrushka should leave you feeling that you’ve actually been to St Petersburg’s Shrovetide Fair in the pre-revolutionary ‘Old Russia’ where Stravinsky grew up. Somehow neither adventure of the imagination quite happens here.