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Fischer : Rite - The Times

“This is one of the earthiest, most pagan accounts of the ballet around… before you play it, warn the neighbours.”

I can still feel the tingle generated by Iván Fischer’s breathtaking account of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 with his Budapest Festival Orchestra at last year’s Proms. It was, on that night, the best orchestra on the planet, alive to every nuance in the score, the sounds admirably blended yet dancing with individual colour. The team’s present all-Stravinsky disc cannot deliver the same intense electric shock; we need a live performance for that. But it certainly makes your speakers shake, especially during the 20th century’s most famous bone-rattler, The Rite of Spring, 100 years old next year.

The rather fruity acoustic of the orchestra’s usual recording venue, Budapest’s Palace of Arts, adds a memorable depth of resonance to the timpani thwacks and rampaging brass in Stravinsky’s revolutionary score. This is one of the earthiest, most pagan accounts of the ballet around. It’s also one of the most carefully considered whenever Stravinsky writes in a slow tempo. The Spring Rounds of Part One carry a heavy weight, as the score directs, but they’re also sensuous, thanks to Fischer’s phrasing and the Budapest woodwinds’ dark glow. There’s a fetching languor too about the introduction to Part Two. Whenever the music jerks into high gear — the notes cascading, polyrhythms jabbing — the contrast is doubly thrilling. Fischer in the booklet writes of the Rite as still sounding “fresh, pagan, scary, new and beautiful” after its century of life. All the adjectives can certainly be applied to this ear-stretching interpretation.

Following that, Fischer offers the suite Stravinsky extracted in 1919 from his first ballet, The Firebird. Chronologically the order should have been reversed; and it’s hard at first to settle to this more picturesque score after the Rite’s bombardments. But the vigour and vivid colours of Fischer’s account soon win you over, making you wish you were hearing the ballet complete, not chopped into seven short sections. Instead, the disc is filled out with two lightweight footnotes from the 1940s: the Scherzo à la Russe, delivered with a nice loping gait, and the orchestral version of Stravinsky’s piano Tango — a light, tight, smoky piece that gets smudged in the Palace of Arts acoustic. Buy this CD for The Rite of Spring; and before you play it, warn the neighbours.

Geoff Brown, The Times