...anyone who thinks The Rite has lost its power through over-familiarity should buy it...
Andrew McGregor 2002
When you look at the growing catalogue of key Russian works recorded by the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, sooner or later you realise that there's a key work missing - especially after their ravishingly beautiful recording of Stravinsky's Firebird. Where's The Rite of Spring? Surely this is the ideal vehicle for this colourful orchestra and its theatrical conductor, whose history and traditions tie them to the ballet.
The wait is over: Gergiev's Rite is out, and it's as thrilling as anyone could have wished, a riot of rhythms and colours dispatched with a heady mixture of virtuosity and controlled savagery. The recording is astonishing, there's so much detail and a natural sense of air around everything, yet the intimate intensity of the orchestra pit is never sacrificed for the broader soundstage. The bass drum and timps have real impact in the Ritual of abduction, the earthiness of the double basses in the Spring rounds has to be heard to be believed, the bass clarinet adds a pungent depth to the winds, and the brass are truly brazen, howling at the heart of the ritual.
This is a sacrifice you can feel happening in front of you - Stravinsky's score throbs with animal life until the very last chord...and that's the only moment I struggled with Gergiev; he makes us wait a full five seconds for the final chord! Too much for me, but I can't deny that the tension is held all the way to that last massive hammerblow.
It's all too easy to go on about The Rite and ignore the coupling, Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy, but that wouldn't be fair: it's the kind of luscious performance that might have you salivating over the sheer beauty of the sounds Gergiev coaxes from the Kirov Orchestra. Everyone who still thrills to Stravinsky's masterpiece should hear this new recording; anyone who thinks The Rite has lost its power through over-familiarity should buy it as a tonic, and feel the adrenaline flow once more.