November 2004

Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Järvi
Telarc CD-80615
Released: 2004

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

On May 29, 1913 the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps opened with a bang -- along with a lot of screaming, crashes and other violent noises. These were the sounds of the audience as the premiere soon turned into a riot at one of classical music’s most infamous openings. This somehow seems appropriate for the "prince of the avant-garde" whose music is often filled with chaos and conflict.

Le Sacre du Printemps can seem avant-garde even by today’s standards. It makes perfect sense then that Telarc and Paavo Järvi saw fit to pair this piece with Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Op.50. Both pieces move the listener between moods of peaceful contemplation and extreme discord bordering on dissonance.

Järvi delivers a first-rate performance of Le Sacre du Printemps. It opens with a glorious bassoon solo that slowly builds, pulling the audience in. Some might describe Järvi’s style as too slow or drawn out. Upon closer inspection, one would find that Järvi is the master of the quiet moments. He loves to draw out the calmer, more meditative moments, but only to build anticipation for the cataclysmic climaxes that he springs on you throughout the performance. "Dance of the Earth" and "Sacrificial Dance" are especially thrilling, with quick building tempos that may have you holding your breath.

The Nielsen is also well done. Sometimes the performance seems a bit stuck in one place, but much of this is more composer than conductor. Nielsen tends to really stretch out the darker, more dismal moments. That Järvi slows these moments down even more may prove a little too much of the same. That said, there are some very good performances by the strings, trumpets, and percussion that make this a very worthwhile addition.

The recording is first-rate Telarc DSD. The space of the hall is perfectly captured with a huge front-to-back soundstage. The detail of even the quietest instruments is reproduced with clarity. This will spend time in my case of demo discs for some time to come.