STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring.  SCRIABIN:  The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54.
Kirov Orchestra, Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev, cond.

PHILIPS 468 035 (F) (DDD) TT:  55:20
November 1991 I wrote a Basic Library for Stereophile on The Rite of Spring discussing almost forty recordings of Stravinsky's masterpiece concluding with the recommendation of the composer's 1960 recording, Pierre Boulez with the Cleveland Orchestra, Sir George Solti with the Chicago 
Symphony, Igor Markevitch with the Philharmonia, and, in particular, Sir Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw.  Of these only the composer's, Boulez and Markevitch are in the current Schwann/Opus (the Davis has been reissued in the Philips 50th Anniversary series not yet available in the U.S. (see REVIEW).

Valery Gergiev and his orchestra give quite a remarkable performance of Stravinsky's incredible score.  They are assisted considerably by producer Stan Taal, balance engineer Jaap de Jong (whose vacuum tube equipment was used for the recording) and recording engineer Thijs Hoekstra. The recording was made in Baden-Baden's Festspielhaus July 24-27, 1999. No question those involved knew what they wanted the listener to hear and with the help of many microphones they have achieved their goal. Many important trombone passages are heard with remarkable clarity, particularly the thirteen glissandi in the final dance (beginning at 2:30 in track 14). Other brass is favored as well, with stunning effect.  he bass drum has a solid whack that will delight audio buffs (although in the final dance it isn't as prominent as elsewhere). The sixteen bars of off-beat tam-tam crashes preceding Adoration of the Earth (beginning at track 6) are virtually inaudible—either the conductor's wishes or the engineering staff's oversight. In Ritual Action of the Ancestors, the five bars of fff French horn writing following 138 in the Kalmus orchestral score (2:39 in track 13) surely could be more prominent —it really doesn't sound like eight horns at full volume. In Spring Rounds (:30 into track 4) low strings are overly  prominent. All this is effective although unnatural. Throughout this recording we have rich orchestral textures and I do not mind the occasional spotlighting.

Gergiev's reading captures perfectly Rite's mystery and sense of discovery, with his superb orchestra in top form. Stravinsky indicates there should be a pause before the final smashing chord in the Sacrificial Dance.  Gergiev's is the longest I've ever heard—5 seconds!!  It's too long!! 

Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy is an appropriate companion for the Stravinsky (although not an overly generous filler: total playing time for this CD is considerably less than an hour).  Gergiev and his orchestra give a voluptuous account of this vivid music.  Here it would have been highly appropriate to spotlight brass which plays such a prominent part, but this wasn't done.  Gergiev puts in an unwritten three-second pause at #34 in the Ernest Eulenberg printed score at the point where it reads, "avec une volupté de plus en plus extatique," (17:00 into track 15) but does not do so just before the final pages where it would have been more appropriate. Perhaps there is no organ in the Festspielhaus; if there is an organ in this recording it isn't very noticeable.

All in all, a fascinating recording for many reasons, a frustrating one as well, but surely worth investigating for its many pluses.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2001)