LSO: Stravinsky Ballets - Pleasant rather than visceral listening

Three great early ballets get sensitive realisation under the guidance of Simon Rattle

Thinking big was obviously in Simon Rattle’s mind when, in September 2017, he began his tenure as music director of the LSO. He presented Stravinsky’s three great early ballets in a single concert with two intervals. He’d had the idea rejected as “stupid” nearly 40 years earlier by one of the London Symphony Orchestra’s rivals, the Philharmonia. And he’d never let go of the ambition to present the remarkable development of Stravinsky’s ballet music between 1909 and 1913 – from the Rimsky-Korsakov-influenced, perfumed exoticism of The Firebird, through the even more vivid colouring, angularity and rhythmic élan of Petrushka, and into the often brutal dissonances, rhythmic complexities and raw, elemental energy of The Rite of Spring.

Rattle’s 2017 performances as captured in these recordings are very much those of a 21st-century sophisticate in command of an astonishingly detailed orchestral palette. You can listen to the works over and over and appreciate again and again the refinement of his grasp of – and his players’ sensitive realisation of – fine details in all three scores. The limitation is that, with everything so well in control, an essential sense of danger is sometimes smoothed over. For the listener, the thrill is sometimes more that of pleasurable observation than visceral involvement.

Stravinsky Ballets
    
Artist: London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Genre: Classical
Label: LSO Live LSO5096
Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor