on 10 April 2014
No doubts that this "historic" recording (stereo 1958) of the young Bernstein/New York Philharmonic, is of a profound interest to the Stravinsky Rite of Spring followers, no doubt here.
It was also one of four early stereo recordings I owned of this oeuvre (the others were the EMI Markevitch, the Decca Ansermet, the Monteux RCA). In those early stereo years, and with those early stereo playback systems we owned, which were incapable of having a decent developed sound field and the play back was incapable of mimicking the recorded event or letting through the real (engineered) efforts - we were capable only of witnessing a passing glimpses of what the event was all about.
And here, after more than fifty years, we can now witness what the recording team captured on tape back than in 1958.
To many this would be tempting to rush out and seek out this Sony re-mastered CD in the hope that some of the early stereo recordings characteristic (presence, dynamic, sound-stage, depth, harmonic accuracy - all of which are characteristic of the same period Living Stereo RCA and of the Living Presence Mercury - will also be detected here with this "Columbia/ CBS" original tapes.
True, the Bernstein approach in 1958 was applauded by Stravinsky who favored this version above many other conductors' endeavors - it was said that some years later, he, Stravinsky, nick-named the Karajan DGG reading as a: "Hutchy-putchy" of a conducting...
Well: here we have an almost dance-like tempo chosen, and we have some short passages in which the structure is so clear as it enables one to understand and be reminded that this was music for a ballet dancers - these tiny passages are almost hidden gestures revealed and at the same time there is no lack of savagery attack.
It is all quite clear and with a nice timbre and nicely spelled out instrument's tonality in the mid-range, specially the woodwinds, but at the same time it is also painfully clear that this early Stereo Columbia recording ventured into an uncharted territory (for that period in time) and utilized "spot-microphones", directional microphones, and that the recording team had great disregard to sound-stage, perspective, depth, and instrumental location within the orchestra, compared this recording with the early RCA/ Monteux (a recording that was actually made by Decca), or compare it with the ancient EMI stereo/ Markevitch).
The violins are almost playing a third-degree role to the centered placed woodwinds - they are weak and diffused.
Another deviation is that there are too many occasions where the sound (dynamic) is compressed and has no "bloom" to it.
And other is that there is a certain tape off-pitch speed which is quite audible at the first minuets into the listening and a slight low-frequency hum leakage (my guess is that the Sony personnel did not knew how to overcome that old analogue-tape misfortunes).
Yet, another misfortune:
The timpani which emanates from the front left - are a sure testimony to the erroneous engineering judgment regards spot microphones and channel mixing - no such faults with early Decca recording (Kenneth Wilkinson recording engineer) or no such bold faults will be easily detected with the early RCA Living Stereo recordings.
With this oeuvre one can and should expect a tremendous grand-bass and a great timpani attacks (three-kettle timpani battery and a bass drum score), but what we get here is not a very impressive attacks and not an attempt of full frequency range.
The drums are all pinpointed as emerging from the direct right channel with no "air", proportions, and no perspective. Be certain that those notes should emanate from behind the orchestra and not from the first row on the right.
The saving grace for this CD lies in its (somewhat) exaggerated Bernstein/Stravinsky cult.
True, one might develop a curiosity for the reading - and that is fine, but with the years that passed since this recording was made there are now plenty of other readings that certainly challenges it and certainly from the audio sophistication point of view they surpass it by a bold margin.
If one is serious about his or her Rite of spring collection - certainly the (ADD recording) Colin Davis/Concertgebouw (interpretation and recording as an ADD) should be high on the list, and the SACD Concertgebouw recording (yes, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, again), only this time it is an 2006 SACD technique superbly done recording with Mariss Jansons conducting, which is guarantee to make you bellybutton quiver and twist - so life-like it is which a huge amount of savagery and delicacy too - no wonder this SACD offering and sale prices are entering the highest realm now a days.
But the Sony ADD recording...?!
The Sony offering fits the realm of an "historic curiosa", and but not more than that.