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Lagom är sämst

The Rite of Spring – the ultimate version

Music Posted on Tue, March 21, 2023 14:57:24

After getting both the 100th anniversary boxes of the Rite of Spring I have amassed 51 different versions:

  • 35 in the Decca box (I will not review the piano versions),
  • 10 in the SONY box,
  • three TELARCs,
  • a BIS and finally
  • two high-resolution files, one from Channel and one from High-Definition Tape Transfer (scanned from a Columbia tape).

Which version is best? I am no trained critic, cannot read notes nor play any instrument, so I will just comment on what I like or don’t like. Every recording will be commented on for artistic value, sound quality and last but not least ‘King of the bass drum’. Once and for all I will find out what label can produce the most powerful bass drum 😊 This blog is called ‘lagom är sämst’, which is the opposed to ‘lagom är bäst’ which is a Swedish expression meaning that just enough (or some restraint) is the best. So the blog means that to max out or not do at all is the best. That is fitting for the Rite of Spring, there is no measured version that can be good. It needs max of savagery, expression and bass drum!

After having heard all, I will pick my favorite in each category.

If you have the patience to read 50+ blog post under the coming months, you are welcome to follow.

Below is a list of links to the individual reviews, that I will update as I go.

Stravinksy/Columbia Symphony Orchestra 1960

Music Posted on Tue, March 21, 2023 14:56:57

This is a release by the label Columbia and part of the SONY 10 CD box. The CDs are printed too look like the original LP, even the paper slip is a copy of the LP cover. A nice touch.

I thought I would be a good idea to start out with a couple of reference recordings that can be used to compare with later. Who better to interpret the work than the creator himself? But Stravinsky composed the rite of spring when he was 30 and was almost 80 when he recorded this. A lot can happen in 50 years.

Sound is generally good, especially given the age of the recording. Soundstage is fairly big and instruments well separated, it is easy to follow different instruments even in busy passages. Timbre is generally good. The bass drum is actually very good, but for some reason it is not allowed to shine as much as I would have liked, either the conductor’s decision or the recording engineer’s.

Artistically it might be sacrilegious to give less than a 5, but this is not the best version I have heard. The first part is good but especially the procession of the sage and the beginning of the dance of the earth lacks some drive. The second part also starts out very well, but many of the more dramatic passages especially the last sacrificial dance is a little disappointing, I have heard other versions with more energy and savagery. It is interesting to hear that Stravinsky’s way of balancing instruments and articulate is somewhat different than what could be called the standard in some places. Runtime is 31:35, which is on the quicker side.

A good, but not great, version. Recommended as a reference since it is the man himself conducting after all.

Artistic: 3

Sound: 3

King of the bass drum: 3