Stravinsky, Debussy, Boulez

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Boulez,Debussy,Stravinsky
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: The Rite of Spring
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-81702-2
Frustrating. Barenboim has put together a marvellous programme, with two early 20th-century masterpieces and a delicious recent work by Boulez, for whom Debussy and Stravinsky are key influences. The sound appears to be demonstration quality and the performances benefit from the sense of structure that informs Barenboim’s Wagner. Unfortunately, it all falls some way short of essential listening. Firstly, Barenboim neglects key details. Alongside Boulez (DG) or Cantelli (Testament), his La mer is flat. Debussy’s seascape is becalmed and lacks the kind of vibrancy that Haitink (Philips) achieves.

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There is a second problem. Despite ‘sounding’ wonderful, entire sections of the orchestra periodically seem to disappear. In the Stravinsky, for instance, the cellos are presumably scrubbing away furiously during the ‘Dance of the Earth’, but they may as well have stayed in the canteen for all that they can be heard. Far from being a minor detail, this leaves the slower-paced violas nonchalantly chugging along instead of the furious sparks of energy created by the clash of rhythms. There is also much to praise, and this disc will certainly not remain forever on the shelf. Nevertheless, if Barenboim matches, even surpasses, Gergiev’s recent Rite (Philips) in terms of dramatic pacing, it lacks the attention to detail within the whole of Boulez’s accounts (Sony and DG). Ultimately none of these quite maintains the spine-tingling tension of Markevitch (EMI & Testament) or Rattle (EMI). Barenboim is worth investigating for the programme, but better versions exist of the Debussy and Stravinsky. Christopher Dingle