Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring; The Firebird

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Stravinsky once claimed he took up conducting his own works in the 1920s because he didn't like the way conductors were interpreting them. Actually, there were a pair of conductors with proven exceptional abilities as interpreters of Stravinsky's music. Pierre Monteux had led the premieres of Petrushka and Le Sacre du Printemps and Ernest Ansemet led the orchestra in the first postwar revival of Le Sacre. Both conductors' efforts had earned the composer's praise. Despite his later assertions, there seems to have been another reason why Stravinsky mounted the podium: he didn't want to miss any royalties when the first recordings of his works were being made in the 1920s. In fact, Stravinsky's principal motivation for recording Le Sacre in 1929 was to present the pubic with a "composer directed" performance of the work to compete with Monteux's.

Surely, though, does the first recording by the composer have some value besides the historical? As a performance, Stravinsky's first Le Sacre begins as a triumph and ends as an embarrassment. part one is amazingly well-played with clear textures and clean rhythms. If its tempos are solid, even stolid, in "Spring's Roundelay," the tempo of the "Dance of the Earth" is remarkably fleet. Unfortunately, part two starts badly and ends worse with flawed string playing throughout the "Introduction" and a final "Sacrificial Dance," which begins sloppily and ends just this side of disastrously. As an interpreter, Stravinsky seems to have little to say about his own chef d'oeuvre. As his program notes accompanying this recording minimized the ritual rape that the ballet enacts, so Stravinsky's interpretation seems to remove the brutal violence from the score. As with so many conductors, perhaps it was all Stravinsky could do to get the notes right. Interpreting the score may have been beyond him.

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