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Lagom är sämst

Litton/Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra 2008

Music Posted on Mon, May 29, 2023 20:28:03

Litton/Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra 2008

Label: BIS

Today it is exactly 110 years since the premier of the Rite of Spring. I have saved one of my favorites recordings for today. The BIS engineers have done a fantastic job here. The soundstage is wide, every instrument is clearly audible no matter how busy the music is and the timbre is almost perfect. The dynamic range is nothing short of sensational. I usually judge the recordings using very good headphones but sometimes I also use my loudspeakers. I actually had to turn down the volume because our windows in the living room started to rattle because of the bass drum. Speaking of the bass drum it is amazing. Not only is it loud, it is very tight. The initial whack and following rumble is captured without even a hint of muddiness. My opinion on the artistic quality might be affected by the exceptional sound. Every little detail is heard. Litton do vary tempo and loudness in a very interesting way. I am truly captured by the music. I had Maazel as my go-to version before, but I do prefer this Litton version. There are some very minor things I think others do better, the brass could be slightly more prominent in the sacrificial dance and the final crescendo of the orchestra phrased a bit different e.g., but all in all near perfect.

Artistic: 5

Sound: 5

Bass drum: 5!

Soliti/Chicago Symphony Orchestra 1974

Music Posted on Wed, May 24, 2023 15:07:17

Label: DECCA

I know many people hold old DECCA recordings in high esteem. I do not know if it is the CD mastering that is off, but the sound quality of this recording is nothing special. There timbre of the instruments are OK and resolution is good. However, soundstage is rather cramped, there is very little air between instruments and the dynamic range is very low. There is a clearly audible bass drum, but it lacks some punch. That is what I feel about this version in general. Technically playing is top notch, but some atmospheric parts are rushed, there is a lack of ‘bite’ in the brass and bass lacks punch. This is not a version that gets me in the mood for a riot.

Artistic: 3

Sound: 3

Bass drum: 3

Malmö Live 11 and 13 May 2023

Music Posted on Wed, May 24, 2023 15:02:53

Performers: Bancroft/Malmö Symphony Orchestra

Any lover of the rite of spring should see it live sometime. Even if good recordings and HiFi equipment can be very impressive, there is something physical about a live performance with almost 100 musicians that cannot be beaten.

Sound and bass drum is of course perfect since they are the ground truth 😊 I think Bancroft did a very good interpretation, the quit parts were done with sensitivity and the loud ones were full of tension and rhythmic precision. The Malmö Symphony Orchestra performed flawlessly in spite of the very complex music.

Maazel/Wiener Philharmoniker 1974

Music Posted on Thu, April 20, 2023 17:35:45

Maazel/Wiener Philharmoniker 1974

Label: Decca

This version has many similarities to the more recent TELARC one. There is a greater variation of tempi in this version, but for the most part that does not bother me. Generally, I prefer the TELARC. However, in some of the noisier passages, this version has even more drive. One part Maazel always seem to do different is the end of the mystic circle of the young girls, where he puts more emphasis on every strike on the bass drum and has a very much slower tempo than others. But I think it really works and is very effective, one of my favorite passages actually. On the other hand, the TELARC is more atmospheric in the slow section, that might partly be due to the TELARCs superior sound quality. This recording is not particularly good or bad, what you expect from an average older recording. The bass drum is audible, but nothing to write home about.

Artistic: 4

Sound: 3

Bass drum: 2

Maazel/The Cleveland Orchestra TELARC

Music Posted on Sun, March 26, 2023 20:33:56

This time it is time for my personal reference recording. I was an early adopter of the Cd format, and this was one of my first ever CDs. So, I have had it for a very long time, and it was my only recording of The Rite of Spring for many years. Thus, I know the performance very well and is the version that I will measure all other against whether it be conscious or subconscious. Even if there are some small things that probably can be done better, I think Maazel really keeps it all together very well. It is a captivating interpretation full of rhythm and dynamics. The sound is typical for early TELARC, not as uber-transparent as some of the later ones, but extremely natural and realistic, especially the strings are something extra on the TELARCs from the 80s. The soundstage is wide, but not extremely so, but the depth is very good and there is areal 3D feeling to the sound. All instruments are well separated and it is easy to follow the individual instruments even in busy passages. The bass drum is very, very good. One I used for HiFi tests a lot in my youth. It is tempting to give maximum points in all categories, but the idea of this exercise is to see if there is something even better, so I will give 4s, setting the bar for 5 very high.

Artistic: 4

Sound: 4

Bass drum: 4

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