Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Andrew Litton
Igor Stravinsky once recalled that his fondest memory of his abandoned homeland was “The violent Russian spring that seemed to begin in an hour and was like the whole Earth cracking.” In 1913 his ballet Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) shook the musical world awake and still carries a tremendous wallop. Andrew Litton, late of the Dallas Symphony, is currently in his eighth season as director of Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic, an orchestra he has honed to a new standard of excellence. His new Stravinsky recording on the BIS label is a welcome triumph of studio engineering in an age of unremarkable reality-TV style concert performances. The production of The Rite of Spring (engineered by Matthias Spitzbarth) provides an astoundingly transparent sound stage, almost as if we were listening through the mind’s ear of the composer. Litton’s steady hand suits this objective music well and the orchestra rises to the challenge of this notoriously difficult score. Audiophiles are in for a real treat.
Unfortunately the performance of the decidedly more romantic tale of the puppet Pétrushka, while technically flawless, is sorely lacking in drama and sheer visceral impact. While it does offer the opportunity to hear the rarely performed original 1911 orchestration, Litton’s reticent reading pales in comparison to the vibrant 1971 recording of this version with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic or for that matter Stravinsky’s own 1960 performance of the revised score. Stay for the Rite and take a powder on the puppet show.