It was exactly 100 years ago, in 1913, that one single work set off a firestorm at its Paris premiere and subsequently set the tone for a great deal of the music that would be composed during the 20th century. That ballet was "Le Sacre Du Printemps", "The Rite Of Spring", and its composer was Igor Stravinsky, one of the titans of classical music of that century. Many considered both the choreography (by the great Sergei Diaghilev) and Stravinsky's music to be nothing short of pornographic; and while that may seem a bit hard to believe in our time (especially considered in light of how it was put to use in Disney's 1940 animated masterpiece FANTASIA), upon closer analysis, it really was the "Big Bang" of 20th century music, as much as (if not more than) Mahler, Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss.
Indeed it is so popular and so familiar to people, especially through the hundreds of recordings of it, that it takes a skilled orchestra and conductor to really pull it off. Zubin Mehta is the man for the job, here conducting the New York Philharmonic in this 1990 recording of Stravinsky's masterpiece; and even though it may not match the recording he made of this work in the 1970s with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, it is a long way from being a disaster. The very haunting introduction in the woodwinds lulls us a touch, but it eventually leads us into the primitive savagery of the piece, making it easy to understand why it sparked the single greatest "riot" in the history of Western music.
Whereas other conductors' recordings of "Rite" are combined with other Stravinsky ballet scores (including "The Firebird", as Antal Dorati had done with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), Mehta and the New York Philharmonic fill out theirs with the composer's 1945 "Symphony In Three Movements", a hugely modern and thorny work that nevertheless simmers with excitement and rhythmic vitality. All in all, this is a recording to be sought out.