Igor Stravinsky – Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

stravinsky_conducts_rite_spring

Before the first gramophone disc recordings of The Rite were issued in 1929, Stravinsky had helped to produce a pianola version of the work for the Aeolian Company. He also created a much more comprehensive arrangement for the French player piano company Pleyel, with whom he signed a contract in 1923 under which many of his early works were reproduced on this medium. The Pleyel version of The Rite of Spring was issued in 1921; the British pianolist Rex Lawson recorded the work in this form in 1990.

In 1929 Stravinsky and Monteux vied with each other to conduct the first orchestral gramophone recording of The Rite. While Stravinsky led L’Orchestre des Concerts Straram in a recording for the Columbia label, at the same time Monteux was recording it for the HMV label. Stokowski’s version followed in 1930. Stravinsky made two more recordings, in 1940 and 1960. According to the critic Edward Greenfield, Stravinsky was not technically a great conductor but, Greenfield says, in the 1960 recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra the composer inspired a performance with “extraordinary thrust and resilience”. In conversations with Robert Craft, Stravinsky reviewed several recordings of The Rite made in the 1960s. He thought Herbert von Karajan’s 1963 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, was good, but “the performance is … too polished, a pet savage rather than a real one”. Stravinsky thought that Pierre Boulez, with the Orchestre National de France (1963), was “less good than I had hoped … very bad tempi and some tasteless alterations”. A recording by The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in 1962 was complimented by the composer for making the music sound Russian “which is just right”, but Stravinsky’s concluding judgement is that none of these three performances is worth preserving.

As of 2013 there are well over 100 different recordings of The Rite commercially available, and many more held in library sound archives. It has become one of the most recorded of all 20th century musical works. A work that addresses this wealth of available recorded versions is Stefan Goldmanns “Edit”, mounting one continuous recording from hundreds of cut segments from 14 recorded versions.

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