STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; Symphony of Psalms – SWR Sym. Orch. of Baden-Baden and Freiburg; Choir and Orchestra of the French Nat. Radio Orch./ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio stereo PASC 418, 56:57 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Producer and Recording Engineer Andrew Rose revives – for the first time – the stereo version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring from 1957, a startling and rough-hewn conception from Vox with the versatile Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) that appeals not at all to the “niceties” of sonic cosmetics. Given the “primal” response from the Baden-Baden ensemble, we must wonder if Horenstein’s reading exploits prior conditions achieved by the orchestra’s main leader, Hans Rosbaud.
The incisive definition from the woodwind section – and mark that amazing bassoon work – has become viscerally alert, on a par with the best interpretations from another master of the idiom, Igor Markevitch. After a thoroughly haunted Introduction, The Augurs of Spring section virtually erupts with diabolic energy, the basic pulse fervently intact. Percussion and brass screech and howl, often panting, in an orgy of released, edgy Dionysiac fury, and so define the Spring Rounds and The Ritual of the River Tribes. The sheer metric discontinuity proves awesome in a thoroughly renewed context of sheer brutal force, as we whirl through dizzying varieties of 2/16, 3/16, and 2/8. It becomes quite clear that Horenstein raises the specter of the composer’s original vision: to unleash a “hurricane which had come from the depth of the ages and which had taken life by the roots.” The “solemn pagan rite” plays itself out to the bitter end; but the Horenstein conception injects such a palpable eroticism, such inflamed lust, to the martyrdom of the Chosen One for “Natural propitiation” that we find ourselves mesmerized by the splendid horror of the event.
Horenstein inscribed Stravinsky’s 1930 score meant for the Boston Symphony Fiftieth Anniversary, his so-called Symphony of Psalms, 30 June 1953 for EMI, released as Angel 35101 (mislabeled on the Pristine liner note). The complementary piece, the Richard Strauss Metamorphosen, remains among my most treasured recordings – transferred to CD for me – by the good people of the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound. Stravinsky intended that the choral and instrumental forces “should be on an equal footing, neither of them outweighing the other.”
The music gravitates between E Minor and G Major, often having Stravinsky elaborate or ornament the basic triads with extra doublings of notes, like his G, B, E consigned to the aerial reaches of flutes, oboes, harps, and pianos. The credited keyboardists, Roger-Jean Boutry and Monique Mercier, add their distinctive color, especially in the final Psalm 150, in which they combine with timpani and harp to intone Russian church bells to accompany the lauds of the chorus that will resolve to a God-like simplicity in C Major. After the strident raw power of Le Sacre, the chiseled austerity and fugal polyphony of the Symphony of Psalms brings a decided poise to the Stravinsky experience.
We have exemplary realizations of two archetypal Stravinsky scores, led by a master colorist too often neglected in the annals of conductors whose range far exceed their commercial personae. [Sounds exciting – I should get the hi-res version download to burn to a DVD-R…Ed.]