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on 20 November 2008
Booklet says Fazil Say waited 10 years to commit his arrangement of The Rite to disc. His uncompromising commitment to the music is obvious right from the beginning. His transcription is based on Stravinsky's own 4 hand version, but Say, superimposes, not only another 2 hand part, but also various effects on piano strings, creating mesmerizingly rich orchestra-like texture. His playing is bold, dazzling and wonderfully delicate in slow passages. Glenn Gould would appreciate Say's daring project, as Gould was the first pianist to introduce superimposed second part on his Meistersinger transcription (Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll; Gould: Transcriptions from Wagner's 'Die Meistersinger' & 'Götterdämmerung'). Enhanced CD has video footage of the pianist playing Bach, Gershwin & Stravinsky. Highly recommendable to anyone after more stimulating listening experience!
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on 8 September 2014
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on 29 March 2013
(Set just received, so rating subject to revision after a complete audition.)

I'll return to this set later, but in the meantime here are a few points, not least a list of what exactly the box contains, which, at the time of writing, Amazon have yet to do.

Unlike the Decca set released last year, Sony have chosen to issue selected performances, rather than every version of Le Sacre in the combined CBS and RCA archives:

Philadelphia Orchestra/ Stokowski (1929)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/ Stravinsky (1940)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Monteux (1951)
Philadelphia Orchestra/ Ormandy (1955)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/ Stravinsky (1960)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Ozawa (1968) (+ Feu d'Artifice)
Cleveland Orchestra/ Boulez (1969)
London Symphony Orchestra/ Bernstein (1972)
Philharmonia Orchestra/ Salonen (1989) (+ Symphony in 3 Movements)
San Francisco Symphony/ Tilson Thomas (1996)

Each version is alone on a CD, except for the two with couplings mentioned above, presented in a cardboard jacket replica of the original LP sleeve and all housed in a square box.

So, most importantly, two recordings by the composer (although the exact extent of his participation in the 1960 version has sometimes been questioned: certainly its almost elegant, lightly sprung transparency is miles away from the altogether heavier and more primitive 1940 traversal). Six of the remaining eight performances are under conductors also represented on the Decca set, though by alternative readings - the live Tilson Thomas is particularly impressive - and since there are fewer versions in this set, it's more likely that an avid Stravinsky collector will already possess those they consider important.

In any case, my immediate reaction is that Sony have missed a trick or two here: the booklet contains Stravinsky's revelatory essay on Le Sacre, but there's enough space on any of the discs to have included his fabulously accented reading of it which accompanied the original release. Bernstein's fiery 1958 account of the score, accorded a critical "Wow!" by the composer himself, is the most surprising omission: the Ozawa and Salonen recordings keep the couplings advertised on their jackets, whilst Ormandy's does not.

There's no arguing with the price, but for me at least, with the obvious exception of the composer's recordings, the overall package offers fewer celebrated versions than the Decca, and is presented with less style and thoroughness, giving this tribute the impression of being rather more a commercial duty than a labour of love. Completists will want it, but what about the more general buyer?

The two Stravinsky versions are widely available elsewhere, and if you have neither, then Sony have also just released a two-disc set of both, each coupled with a roughly contemporaneous recording of the Firebird suite. I have a feeling that this would probably be enough for the general listener who would like to explore the work a little further (not to mention a useful adjunct for those who feel they've just about gone far enough with the Decca, but need the composer's versions as well).

Addendum: The 1958 Bernstein, mentioned above, is very hard to find, with the last CD reissue long out of print. Its inclusion here would really have tipped the balance in favour of this larger set rather than the two disc version. However, it appears that a reissue is due soon: according to the French Amazon site, Urania Widescreen are releasing it in late April as part of a two-disc "Bernstein conducts Russian Composers" set. This leaves the San Francisco/Tilson Thomas as the deal-breaker, and it's a real cracker of a performance, superlatively engineered: it's already joined my shortlist of favourites, and justifies my personal choice of the bigger compilation.
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on 23 December 2013
i'm at a loss to explain why no one else has reviewed this seminal piece by stravinsky.(maybe because it's on a lesser label)
the best interpretation of this piece hands down is the one by stravinsky himself with the columbia phil released by sony. i have heard other interpretations, yet none of them come close to stravinsky's own...until i heard this.
there are 2 versions of 'rite of spring' by markevich. one recorded in 1951 and in mono, the other in 1958 and in excellent stereo. his mono recording was a top tier recording of the time and he recorded the stereo (thankfully for us) quite by accident. the story goes that EMI had booked the studio space for klemperer but he fell ill. rather then cancel the booking they asked markevich to re-record his 'rite' in stereo. it was a last minute thing to get all the original players back together but you can definitely feel the full force of the orchestra here. i'm not well versed in describing it in detail except this forgotten record stands alongside all the seminal recordings. luckily for us, both recordings are on this disc.
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on 14 August 2013
Although this recording dates from the late 50s, Sony mastering engineers hyave done a magnificent job with the sound.

Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic are on top form with this performance. Stravinsky himself is said to have loved this performance - 'nuff said!
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on 1 May 2016
I can only agree with Steppes - the stereo version is magnificent and enjoyed a run for its money on the Music for Pleasure budget label aimed at discerning music lovers. No shame there with likes of Barbirolli, Gibson, Silvestri and Kletzki filling out the list.

If you love the Rite then investigate this reference from yesteryear - it's up with the best and beats many digital versions sonically hands down.
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on 10 December 2014
Excellent selection. Would rate Monteux best.
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on 21 November 2008
Knowing many parts were added later by superimposing, this 4 hand piano transcription of The Rite of Spring still never ceases to amaze me by its complexity, variety of tonal colours, inventive John Cage-like effects (thumping on strings damped by hand, pianist shouting and breathing hard), dazzling virtuosity and exquisite tonal control. Fazil Say must have studied orchestra score through and through. The sheer power and his enormous passion for the music make this performance more thrilling and facinating than the original orchestra version. As the music progresses, tension level rises to unbearable degree and the force of archaic brutality becomes overwhelming and almost frightening!
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[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]

The Sony Box contains 10 recordings of the Rite of Spring on 10 CDs.
The rival Universal Box has 38 performances on 19 CDs: Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps: 100th Anniversary Collector's Edition.
EMI has yet to be heard from.
This is getting out of hand.

All this set me to thinking: What are the truly essential recordings of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring?
Not the BEST PERFORMANCE or the BEST RECORDING, but the MOST IMPORTANT recordings of the music since its debut in 1913.
Recordings every serious Stravinskian should own.

I came up with a list of thirteen recordings.
- Stravinsky was notoriously superstitious; I don't think he would like this.

The earliest was recorded in 1921, the most recent in 1969.
Sony includes five of them in their box (50%).
Universal includes just three, out of of the 38 in their box (Ouch).

Three are conducted by the composer.
Three are conducted by Pierre Monteux, the conductor at the first performance in 1913.
[Monteux began his conducting career in 1895 and was active well into the 1960s].

1) 1921 - Igor Stravinsky played The Rite on a pianola which created a piano roll: Rite of Spring - or - Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring (two versions - Orchestral & Piano Roll)
Later on he was able to speed up certain sections, or add additional notes by punching new holes in the piano roll.
Apparently he did this a lot. He was not a virtuoso pianist.
The exact tempo is always controversial with piano rolls, but they do preserve the tempo relationships the composer wanted (seven years after the premiere).

2) 1929 - Pierre Monteux, Orchestre Symphonique de Paris: Stravinsky: Rite of Spring and Petrushka - or - Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, Vol. 2.
3) 1929 - Igor Stravinsky, Walther Straram Concerts Orchestra: Rite of Spring / Firebird
Sixteen years after the premiere, EMI recorded competing versions by the composer, and by the conductor of that first performance.
These two are as close as we can get to what the first night audience heard (minus the yelling).
Both are in primitive sound with barely competent French orchestras.
The orchestra at the first performance wasn't that great either.
The Monteux is a mess, the Stravinsky even messier. Both are essential.
I wish EMI or Naxos would couple them on a single CD with informed program notes.

4) 1930 - Leopold Stokowski, Philadelphia Orchestra - in the Sony Box or ASIN: B00000E6PA *
Stokowski conducted the American premiere of the work in 1920.
His was the best-selling Rite on 78s.
The Rite of Spring became a fixture in popular culture after Stokowski conducted it in Walt Disney's "Fantasia".
You can also hear Part Two as suspense music (uncredited) in lots of low-budget Hollywood films from the '30s through the '50s).

5) 1940 - Igor Stravinsky, New York Philharmonic - in the Sony Box or ASIN: B00AL6SN52 *
The composer's second go at the work, with a much better orchestra than 1929 (plus his conducting skills had improved).

6) 1951 - Pierre Monteux, Boston Symphony - in the Sony Box or ASIN: B000003FLV or ASIN: B00000E6C7 *
Monteux's second recording, with one of the great orchestras. Mono sound is the only drawback.

7) 1956 - Pierre Monteux, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra - in the Universal Box or ASIN: B000G6BJKS *
Monteux's third recording, the first stereo recording of the work.
The orchestra is less good than the Boston Symphony, but it does have the quintessential French orchestral sound (now lost).

8) 1957 - Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande - in the Universal Box or ASIN: B00005ND3M or ASIN: B000004242 *
On Stravinsky's recommendation, Ansermet was appointed Monteux's successor as music director of the Ballets Russe.
He conducted the first revival of the Rite of Spring in 1916, and was close to the composer for the next twenty years.

9) 1958 - Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic: Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps
This was the best-selling Rite of Spring in the early stereo era.
People bought it to show off their new Hi-Fi Stereo equipment.
It popularized the work on LP much like Stokowski had done on 78s.
For some reason, Sony left it out of their box, opting instead for Bernstein's less interesting 1972 remake with the London Symphony
(Universal has his even less interesting 1982 remake with the Israel Philharmonic).

10) 1960 - Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony - in the Sony Box or ASIN: B00AL6SN52 *
The composer's third attempt, the only one in stereo. His conducting skills kept getting better.
This was the New York version of the "Columbia Symphony" - basically the New York Philharmonic.

11) 1964 - Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic - in the Universal Box or ASIN: B000W99IJI *
Included in this list as an example of what not to do.
Stravinsky famously trashed this recording in Hi-Fi Stereo Review (February, 1965):
"..the performance [is] too polished, a pet savage rather than a real one...I doubt whether The Rite can be satisfactory performed in terms of Herr von Karajan's traditions. I do not mean to imply that he is out of his depths, however, but rather that he is in my shallows...There are simply no regions for soul-searching in The Rite of Spring."
[Perhaps chastened by this review, Karajan's 1977 remake is both more conventional and less interesting]

12) 1966 - Yevgeny Svetlanov, USSR Symphony: Stravinsky: Rite of Spring - or - Stravinsky : Le Sacre Du Printemps - Petrouchka - or - Stravinsky - The Rite Of Spring. Card Game - Evgeni Svetlanov
My wild card choice.
In the same article where he trashed Karajan, Stravinsky had high praise for a 1962 concert by this same USSR Symphony, conducted by Robert Craft:
"...whereas the French orchestra turned the Rite into a French piece, and the German orchestra into a German piece, the Russian turns into a Russian piece which is just right...compare this to America where it has become a conductor's showpiece for one-rehearsal concerts in the Hollywood Bowl!"
Stravinsky wasn't praising Craft's conducting.
He was praising the Russian sound of the orchestra, which is exactly what he wanted.
Since the fall of Communism, Russian orchestras have lost this unique sound.
This is not the case with the oldest Russian recording I could find: Svetlanov's 1966 USSR Symphony has a sound that is lost to history, but it is precisely this sound that Stravinsky had in mind when composing the Rite of Spring.

13) 1969 - Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra - in the Sony Box or ASIN: B000002A2M *
In a sense, this was the first modern recording of The Rite of Spring.
It created a sensation when first released;
No one had ever heard an orchestra play this music with such precision.
Something that later recordings take for granted.
As to the performance itself, in 1970 Stravinsky gave it a qualified recommendation (he preferred his own - No surprise.)
Boulez's 1992 Cleveland remake - in the Universal Box - is just one of the many note-perfect recordings that came later.

If you're counting: Numbers 1, 2, 3, 9, 12 are not part of any box ; Numbers 4, 5, 6, 10, 13 are in the Sony box ; Numbers 7, 8, 11 are in the Universal box.

* All the performances in the Sony and Universal boxes are available separately.
ASIN = Amazon Stock Index Number.
Just copy and paste the ASIN number into the Amazon search bar ( ie, if you want the Boulez, copy and paste "ASIN: B000002A2M" ).

Contents of the Sony box:

Philadelphia Orchestra / Stokowski (1930)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York / Stravinsky (1940)
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Monteux (1951)
Philadelphia Orchestra / Ormandy (1955)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra / Stravinsky (1960)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Ozawa (1968)
Cleveland Orchestra / Boulez (1969)
London Symphony Orchestra / Bernstein (1972)
Philharmonia Orchestra / Salonen (1989)
San Francisco Symphony / Tilson Thomas (1996)
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on 6 July 2014
Sorry, but I clicked on this link from the CD version of Markevitch's 2 recordings but the cover here says Stravinksy is the conductor, and as there are only 14 tracks of mp3, it can't be the 2 Markevitch recordings! Someone needs to sort this out pronto, as it is very misleading!
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