Eji Oué is an artist whom I greatly admire based on his recordings with the Minnesota Orchestra in superb HDCD sound on Reference Records. His tenure with the orchestra is regarded with a "sniffy" disdain by many critics particularly in the USA-but then much the same can be said of the legacy of Ormandy and Leinsdorf, so a dispassionate observer should not be too influenced by this. There are certain constants throughout his series of recordings-the playing is extraordinarily beautiful, highly accomplished with refulgent string tone, brilliant woodwinds and rich, ripe brass with a rather Germanic timbre to them-the recordings are superb with a really wide dynamic range and little evidence of compression-and Oué's readings are unfussy, clear expositions of the works in question, with flexible rhythms, beautiful balancing of textures and displaying a wonderful sense of colouring. If none of his readings are "revelatory" in an interpretative sense, neither are they blighted by agogic gestures and eccentric choices. This might suggest that they are no better than reliable, but the truth is that they are highly satisfying and -a word we sometimes forget-enjoyable! With the works in question on this splendid disc recorded in 2007, it's easy for those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time listening to and forensically examining the works we love always to be on the hunt for something challenging, a new slant, an interpretative revelation -so that we sometimes forget just to revel in a beautifully played and faithfully interpreted performance-and that's what we find are on this recording! Oué immediately scores high marks for opting for earlier versions of the scores over their post-war revisions, with the more exotic scoring and bigger sound picture. The Firebird is by turns gorgeous and dynamic. The recording captures in extraordinary detail the woodwind and percussion effects, and the bass drum thwacks throughout all 3 pieces are cataclysmic in typical Prof Johnson recording style. In the "Ronde des princesses" the delicacy of the oboe and cello duets is very affecting and Oué adopts a balletic tempo not dissimilar to that of Stravinsky himself. The even more exotically scored Chant du Rossignol is really suited to Oué's skill in highlighting the exotic colouring and intricate balancing that this score requires, and I have not encountered a finer version, though I have great affection for Maazel's BRSO recording. I suppose though that the meat with "the two veg" on this platter is the Rite of Spring, a work in particularly high relief in its 100th anniversary year. Although I prefer an approach which plays the work beautifully and let's the innate character of the music convey the awful drama, I am nearly as well disposed to a more savage, wild approach and we have had a new superb version this year at each extreme-those by Rattle and Temirkanov.
This recording veers more toward the Rattle in that the playing is exquisite and the approach is to play the music perfectly, expose as much inner detail as possible, take sensible tempi and keep the rhythms flexible and appropriate and let the music work its own magic. The sheer weight of sound is breathtaking, and the recording reveals musical lines I have not heard before. The weight of the percussion and the shatterng tam tam strokes has never been so well caught. The music is not quite so rounded and "beautified" as with the Rattle, and this reading reminds me a great deal of Ozawa's pioneering recording with the CSO in the 60's-I hesitate to suggest that this is perhaps influenced by a Japanese sense of rhythm and dynamics, but there are similarities. Harking back to my comments about the word " enjoyable"-we "old lags" would do well to remember that for many this could be their first experience of this great music, and others will know it and may be looking for only one recording. Whichever category the reader falls into, they will find in this disc sheer unalloyed enjoyment. It plumbs no new interpretative depths, but it does reach new heights in recording quality, and the playing is the equal of any. There are so many alternatives that an outright recommendation is impossible-but this is great music stunningly played and recorded and conducted with flair and insight-I love the whole disc and think you will too. 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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A totally disjointed album with cutoffs between one area and the next, it's really not worth the money I paid for it. "What Hi-Fi" used it for a test of a sound system saying how the item could handle the different parts of the music, this is true, but overall it seems to me that it should go back to the workshop and be remasted to a significantly higher level.
I bought this for a ballet-mad 7 year old to balance up her musical diet. So much of Stravinsky's ballet music is accessible to musical beginners, and the musical themes and images can fire the imaginations of the young. This is not music for dancing dolls.