STRAVINSKY: Le sacre du printemps - "10 Reference Recordings"
Philadelphia Orch/Leopold Stokowski (rec. 1929-1930). (32:39)
New York Philharmonic/Igor Stravinsky (rec. 1940) (30:45)
Boston Symphony Orch/Pierre Monteux (rec. 1951) (31:25)
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy (rec. 1955) (29:49)
Columbia Symphony Orch/Igor Stravinsky (rec. 1960) (31:35)
Chicago Symphony Orch/Seiji Ozawa (rec. 1968) (32:46)
Cleveland Orch/Pierre Boulez (rec. 1969) (34:34)
London Symphony Orch/Leonard Bernstein (rec. 1972) (35:29)
Philharmonia Orch/Esa-Pekka Salonen (rec. 1989) (32:13)
San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas (rec. 1996) (33:54)
SONY 546174 (10 disks)

STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du printemps. Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Apollon Musagète.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
EMI 236112 TT: 75:36

STRAVINSKY: Le sacre du printemps
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein (rec. 1958)

This site recently mentioned the impressive Decca celebratory multi-disk issues devoted to the 100th Anniversary of the premier of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps (REVIEW). It outlined the history of many recordings of the work including the first ever made. Now we have an important new recording of the work conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic, a reissue of Leonard Bernstein's 1958 New York Philharmonic performance, and Sony Classical's 10-disk set of "reference recordings." In the latter, four conductor are duplications but different performances: Pierre Boulez here conducts his 1969 Cleveland Orchestra instead of the 1985 version with the same orchestra, Pierre Monteux is heard in his 1951 Boston Symphony performance rather than the 1956 Paris Conservatory Orchestra version, Leonard Bernstein's London Symphony 1972 version is included rather than the 1982 performance with the Israel Philharmonic (his 1958 recording with the New York Philharmonic is issued separately, as listed above). and Michael Tilson Thomas's 1996 San Francisco recording, superior to his 1972 version with the Boston Symphony which is in the big Decca set—but even better is his later recording for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra label. There are serveral bonuses in the set: Ozawa's CSO Feu d'artifice, and Salonen's Symphony in Three Movements. .

Of major interest in Sony's new set is Leopold Stokowski's 1929-1930 Victor set, the first American recording of the work, about a decade before the Maestro made his truncated version for Walt Disney's Fantasia

Leonard Bernstein always championed Sacre and recorded it three times, plus a video. When Stravinsky heard the NYP recording made in Brooklyn's St. George Hotel January 20, 1958, his comment was, "Wow!" Stravinsky had recorded it with the same orchestra in 1940, tame when compared with Bernstein's dynamic performance, now issued on Sony on a mid-price newly remastered disk as well as on an audiophile LP (that costs twice a much). It seems odd that Sony instead didn't issue this performance on SACD and couple it with Bernstein's1972 LSO recording which was made when there was considerable interest in quadraphonic recording. It was recorded multi-channel; I never heard it multi-channel but the two-channel reduction (included in Sony's "reference" set) is a mess—overly reverberant and muddy. It would be interesting to hear the original four-track recording, and with today's technology this would have been the opportunity to do so . An opportunity missed, unfortunately. Bernstein's Israel Philharmonic 1982 recording, in the big Decca set, has disappointing sonics, surprising for a recording made in 1982. On the subject of Bernstein and Sacre, one should also investigate the fascinating DVD of a stunning performance with the London Symphony recorded in Croydon November 27, 1966 (REVIEW).

Sir Simon Rattle's new recording with the Berlin Philharmonic is surely among the best. Rattle has a long association with this music His earlier EMI recordings with the City of Birmingham Symphony and the National Youth Orchestra are still in the catalog. He also recorded a performance for the soundtrack of the film Coco Channel & Igor Stravinsky, and you can see a live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded June 21, 2009 in Waldbühne, before an audience of more than 20,000 who watched during a rainstorm (REVIEW). It does seem rather odd EMI didn't release the new version on SACD; the technology might have cleared up some of the masses of orchestral sound. Unfortunately the label seems to have no interest in audiophile surround sound. And by all means, skip the puzzling and disappoint DVD of Oliver Hermann's film which uses some of the music for Sacre to tell the story of three uninteresting neurotic people. A bummer, for sure,and an insult to Stravinsky's masterpiece.

R.E.B. (May 2013)