Stravinsky: Firebird Suite; The Rite of Spring

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Firebird Suite; The Rite of Spring
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 900706

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Partly thanks to Stravinsky’s disavowal of its theatrical beginnings, The Rite of Spring has become a favourite concert-hall showpiece for orchestras. With an orchestra of the pedigree of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that is something to relish, and, for much of the time, this live recording from April 1998 does not disappoint.

Unlike some recordings originally destined for radio broadcast, the sound here is very good indeed. There is clarity and a naturalness (for CD) that conveys both the breadth of the orchestral palette and a sense of occasion. The delicacy of the hushed textures in the opening of Part 2 is magical, and a fitting tribute to the best of Lorin Maazel’s work with the orchestra. 

Unfortunately, there is also some of the worst, as he occasionally treats this as a showpiece for the conductor rather than the orchestra. The most indulgent moments occur in the Spring Round Dances, every gesture in some passages being distended or distorted like a ham actor.

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There may be much to admire, but certainly no more so than either Igor Markevitch’s classic account (available on both EMI and Testament) or Yoel Levi’s more recent version (Telarc), and there are too many aberrations. Captured a year later, the 1919 Firebird Suite fares much better, though the winds’ intonation is less sure-footed. Maazel may not have the fizz of Leonard Bernstein (Sony), but at least in this performance the music is the focus. Christopher Dingle