There is no doubt that this is an incredibly well-played, unbelievably well-conducted, and extraordinarily well-recorded performance of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps. The Cleveland Orchestra, possibly technically the best orchestra in America, had learned the work under Pierre Boulez and knew the music better than any other orchestra in the country. Lorin Maazel, probably technically the best conductor in America, had known the work for years and he knew the music better than any other conductor in the country. And Telarc, certainly the best of the then-brand-new digital record companies in America, may not have been in business as long as its more distinguished competitors, but it knew how to record classical music as well or better than any other label in the country.
Nevertheless, for all its excellence, this is still a stunningly dull performance of one of the most exciting pieces ever composed. Why? It's not the Cleveland's fault: it plays with a virtuosity that realizes every note in the score. It's not Telarc's fault: its sound reproduces with amazing fidelity every sound the Cleveland makes. It's Maazel's fault: for all his undoubted brilliance as a conductor, Maazel's interpretations are emotionally empty. There's energy in his conducting, but it doesn't go anywhere. There's power in his conducting, but it doesn't mean anything. There's a clear reproduction of the score, but it doesn't mean more than the marks on the paper. If you're looking for a great recording of Le Sacre, try either of the Boulez recordings with the Cleveland. Its playing is just as incredible, but under Boulez it means something.