STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. NIELSEN: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50.
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Paavo Järvi, cond.
TELARC CD 80615 (F) (DDD) TT: 73:08


R.B. is the Rite of Spring maven on (in one review of various performances in the Index he mentions having assessed more than 40 different versions for Stereophile magazine). He will be writing about Telarc’s SACD release of this performance and its discmate, the Nielsen Fifth Symphony, which has been pretty much my ranchero. What follows is a review of the standard stereo CD that persons without elaborate video-disc setups might be interested in adding to their collections. That is, if you don’t already have a Sacre or several. I reviewed only the first of Paavo Järvi’s now-six CDs with the Cincinnati SO for Telarc: a commendable, spit-and-polish Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, with the Love Scene from Roméo et Juliette as an encore. In the case to hand, Nielsen is a lot more than an encore ; it lasts longer than the first-featured Rite as Järvi interprets it, with pluses and minus in both works that are at least consistent, and in which the Cinti SO plays with a virtuosity I never heard before, and that’s going back to Kinderkonzerts under Eugene Goossens (before his knighthood) starting in the late 1930s. In other words, the playing collectively as well as individually is both virtuosic and tonally lustrous.

As for Paavo (which Cincinnati calls him in emulation of San Francisco and “MTT”), he is absorbing when he doesn’t turn slow sections into dirges or slather them in maple-syrup or take uncommonly long pauses for breath that vitiate continuity. But the fact is his Sacre (by my math) lasts 35:22 compared, say, to the composer’s own 31:32 in his definitive version of 1940 with the New York Philharmonic (contained in Vol. 1 of Andante’s six-disc collection of his performances in the public domain overseas). My own favorite of many remains Seiji Ozawa’s with the Chicago SO in 1968 on a remastered BMG/RCA “High Performance” disc, which takes a minute longer than Stravinsky’s own at age 58. Actually, I wouldn’t mind Paavo’s timing if only he didn’t fail to build to a shattering climax (not for the first time by any means). Even in standard stereo on an admittedly excellent rig, despite the age of some component parts (a Levinson ML-1 preamp, for example, that has done service since 1978), Telarc’s detail is mightily impressive and their deep percussion and contrabassi in the tradition of that staggering Atlanta/Shaw Firebird that set a new sonic high-bar record back when it was blowing out woofers here and abroad.

The Nielsen performance takes 37:46, which is not unreasonable although a tad slow because of a moony Andante un poco tranquillo in the second movement, before the concluding Allegro (Tempo I), which is then paced by Paavo too fast for the maple-syrup before it. String sound is effulgent but not structurally compensatory. Plus, having set a terminal Allegro molto pace, Paavo neglects to build up enough tension or weight of sound. There is a vague sense of inconclusiveness, if not quite coitus interruptus. But Nielsen is temperamentally more congenial for him than Sibelius seems to have been in the Symphony No. 2 with a rejuvenated Cinti SO that Telarc released on 80585, with a symphony by Tubin as its discmate.

R.D. (September 2004)