Indispensable Rite of Spring Recordings to Add to Your Collection, Part 2 (1984-1997)

by James Chang – This is a continuation of the previous post in this series, which includes an introduction, explanation of criteria (execution, engineering, interpretation), and three recordings from 1958 to 1978.  Be sure to check out the previous post too! Here are the next three recordings in the series, dating from 1984 to 1997.

Charles Dutoit, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 1984

[It should be noted too that this album also has the best recording of the original version of Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments.]

This is one of my all-time favorite recordings of this piece. It’s a more reverb-y recording than others, but oh my god, it’s so well engineered, you can hear just about every note. Everything is pretty clear, and the lows and the highs sing out loud and clear. The guero is great too, and the bass trumpet and tubas sound so juicy.

All of that supports a nearly perfect execution.  The musicians are beginning to play this piece with beauty, with such refined tones.  No one seems to be phased by the famed difficulty of this piece anymore.  The only errors I caught were one that was in print at the time (I guess they hadn’t got the memo yet to switch to the 1965 edition), and a slight rhythmic error in the Ritual Action of the Ancestors, in the English horn.

Dutoit’s tempi are perfect, and despite the refinement, this is still an exciting recording.

I didn’t really say much about this recording, but I do think this is one of the most perfect recordings of this piece, and you can’t really go wrong with adding this to your collection.

  • Execution: 9.5/10 – near perfect, barring a couple of things
  • Engineering: 9/10 – again, nearly perfect, but a little too reverberant
  • Interpretation: 9/10 – great interpretation, a little (too?) refined

Riccardo Chailly, Cleveland Orchestra, 1985

Bass drum. That is all.

JK, that’s not all, but this is seriously the best bass drum capture I’ve heard in recordings of this piece. Even a semi-decent woofer is enough for you to hear the difference.

There is yet even more clarity in this recording than in previous recordings, which is great. The guero in the Procession is wonderfully healthy, and it’s great. On a good sound system, this recording, especially in the Sacrificial Dance, will knock your socks off.

The Cleveland Orchestra plays this well, Chailly leads the piece well, and the engineers did a hell of a job with capturing it all.

This is a worthy addition to any collection, a lot because of its astounding sonic qualities.

  • Execution: 9/10 – No surprises by now. Fine performances!
  • Engineering: 9/10 – Dat bass. Dat bass drum. Whooooo-eeee
  • Interpretation: 9/10 – Really quite nice

Robert Craft, London Symphony Orchestra, 1997

Some say Stravinsky was so fond of him that Stravinsky’s sons were jealous of him

Some say he drew Stravinsky to the dark side of Serialism

Some say he pretended to be Stravinsky and wrote half of those books by himself

All we know is… he’s Robert Craft, and he conducted this recording.

You’d think, given his long time association with the man himself and the fact that he published a guide on how to conduct the Rite of Spring, that this should be a really good recording.

And… it actually is. You can tell this is going to be a good recording when, after a well-balanced Introduction, the horns blast away in the Dances of the Young Girls.  The engineering in these recordings keeps getting better and better. In this, all the percussion are captured very well, especially the timpani and the bass drum, and an audible guero blends in nicely.  All the instruments seem well blended, i.e. the orchestra sounds like a singular organism now, instead of a chimera of its parts.

Despite the refinement that seems to be trending in both musicianship and audio engineering for recordings of this piece, this recording seems to buck that trend in interpretation.  Once again, the brass are gunning it, the bass drum is colossal, and the Sacrificial Dance has a lot of character without being messy.  The very last note that ends the piece and presents the sacrificial victim feels like an explosion! LSO has played and recorded this piece a number of times by now, and they just keep getting better, and Craft presents Stravinsky’s vision in a much better way than Stravinsky ever could.

I think Stravinsky would have been proud of his protégé.

  • Execution: 9/10 – LSO’s got dis by now
  • Engineering: 9/10 – organic and well-blended, still with sufficient clarity
  • Interpretation: 9.5/10 – it’s basically Stravinsky himself with a lot better baton technique (I also particularly like how fast he takes the Introduction to the Second Part)

Don’t forget to check out the third and final installment to this series!

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