Stravinsky: Petrushka; The Rite of Spring

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Petrushka; The Rite of Spring
PERFORMER: Bergen PO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1474 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra have forged a formidable partnership over the past few years. One result has been a string of superlative recordings, so this combination of Stravinsky’s contrasting scenes from Russia – one brutally pagan, the other vividly nostalgic – is an enticing prospect. True to form, Litton draws exceptionally clean textures from the orchestra, notably fine woodwind colouring, with a keen eye for every facet of both scores. The recorded sound is exceptional in both stereo and, especially, surround, with a real sense of how Stravinsky moves details around the orchestra.
 
And yet, it is all distinctly bloodless, with little of the drama, pathos or visceral excitement that these ballets should evoke. Each immaculately manicured note is in its place, and not a hair is out of place, even at the end of the ‘Sacrificial Dance’. In addition to sparkle and comedy there should be a dark side to Petrushka, but the trumpet fanfares are jolly rather than disturbing, even when the puppet’s ghost appears.
 
Litton’s almost neo-classical approach brings an attractive delicacy to passages such as the ‘Ritual Action of the Ancestors’. That’s all well and good, but he lets crucial moments float by dispassionately. By contrast, Simon Rattle and the CBSO (EMI) provide a masterclass in shaping the minutiae while sustaining searing tension throughout the whole. Christopher Dingle