STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring – The Bad Plus piano trio – Masterworks 8843 02405 2 (2/18/14) *****:
(Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, double bass & electronics; David King, drums)
“The Rite of Spring” = STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; HOLST: The Planets Suite; SAINT-SAENS/ANDERSON: Dance Macabre – The 5 Browns, pianos – Steinway & Sons 30031, 58:34 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
There have been a number of one-piano and piano duo versions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; the composer even created a piano 4 hands version himself. But who would have ever thought we’d eventually be hearing it played by one of the top jazz piano trios of the day plus on five pianos at once, yet here they are!
The Bad Plus originated in 2000 in Minneapolis and have gone on to become one of the most popular jazz trios in the world, combining elements of avant-garde jazz with rock and pop. They have done their covers of songs by Radiohead, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, David Bowie, Yes and Queen.While artists in residence at Duke University in 2011 they premiered their version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring,” and now have recorded it.
They have obviously given much thought and effort over to translating this epoch-making work into their very own style. All six movements of the First Part are here, as well as all six of the Second Part. I recall once seeing a solo dancer performance of the entire Rite of Spring, accompanied by reduced instrumental forces (I don’t recall if it was solo piano or a chamber group). This jazz version works much better; in fact it is fascinating. The use of electronics helps out in a few spots but it is not overly used. Somehow the rhythmic pulse of this amazing work comes thru even better than in the full orchestral version, thought I’m sure the Bad Plus doesn’t have to deal with the constantly-changing unusual time signatures which Stravinsky employed in his difficult score. In spite of that there’s a strong rhythmic feeling here that almost communicates the scenario of the chosen maiden dancing herself to death better than the orchestral version. Bravo The Bad Plus!
The 5 Browns: Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae, became the first family of five siblings ever accepted at the Juilliard School, and they have been making CDs for nearly a decade now. Some have spent 30 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Classical Album Chart, and some were multichannel—which makes sense for five pianos—but not this one. The group also starred in the PBS-TV special The 5 Browns in Concert. This is their first CD for Steinway & Sons, and in good stereo sonics.
Jeffrey Shumway’s super-virtuoso arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is the centerpiece of this CD. The 5 Browns spent a lot time getting their performance ready for public consumption. They watched videos of various ballet performances of the work as well as playing their own individual parts along with listening on headphones to orchestral versions of the ballet score. The idea was to bring a new light and energy to the work. In a way, the very angular melodies and rhythms of Stravinsky’s piece can be appreciated in a new way listening to this, just as with the Bad Plus version. The five similar instruments all playing their unified version of the score seems to work very well, even in stereo. They recorded it at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College. (And aptly, they did so on exactly a century to the day from the work’s original riotous premiere in Paris.)
Greg Anderson, of the piano duo Anderson and Roe, has done several five-piano arrangements for the 5 Browns on their previous albums, and here presents three of the movements from Gustav Holt’s The Planets: Mars, Neptune and Jupiter. He also contributes his exhilarating and lengthy version of the Danse Macabre, which Liszt had long ago arranged for one piano from the orchestral score. To say he has outdone Liszt here would be obvious.