STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; Pastorale; BACH (arr. Stokowski): Toccata and Fugue in d; Fugue in g; Passacaglia and Fugue in c – Philadelphia Orch./ Yannick Nezet-Seguin – DGG

by | Dec 20, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; Pastorale; BACH (arr. Stokowski): Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Fugue in G minor; Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor – Philadelphia Orch./ Yannick Nezet-Seguin – DGG B0019032-02, 63:08 (9/24/13) [Distr. by Universal] ***:

Recorded in March 2013, these performances bespeak conductor Nezet-Seguin’s conscious sense of extending the legendary association of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) with particular masterpieces – to wit, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and transcriptions of Bach clavier pieces –  that set an audiophile standard in their own time. The 1913 balletic score by Stravinsky found its American premiere in 1922 by Stokowski and its first American studio recording in 1929. The music retains its power to invigorate and challenge the spirit. As Nezet-Seguin exclaims, “It gives you more adrenalin than any other piece I know.” In keeping with ‘the Stokowski Sound,” Nezet-Seguin maintains the technique of free bowing in his strings to produce the (Wagnerian) wall of unbroken string sonority from his players.

Collectors may recall that in 1979 Riccardo Muti inscribed a potent rendition of Le Sacre with the Philadelphia Orchestra for EMI. I cannot claim that this latest rendition – however reliable the beneficiary of sound engineer Charles Gagnon’s work at the Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia – marks a palpable improvement over the Muti.  And the nervously slick precision of the Stokowski classic version has its own magic. The innate lushness of Stokowski’s Bach transcriptions, treating as they do the orchestra as an organ diapason, remains, striking and cleanly articulated. But given the contemporary interest by Jose Serebrier in these treatments, I see little spontaneously demanding of our investment into these new inscriptions, other than the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Most of Nezet-Seguin’s realizations of the Bach organ works sound over-refined, more in the Karajan tradition of “no rough edges” than erotically edgy in the Stokowski manner. Generally, Nezet-Seguin reveals a deft, intelligently credible balance of power and genial clarity, but the revelations simply do not come. If someone had attributed the “Little Fugue” performance to Eugene Ormandy, I would not have raised an aural objection.

These are sympathetic but unremarkable performances of familiar repertory from an ensemble that awaits this conductor’s real advent into the musical domains he commands.

—Gary Lemco

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