October 2005

Stravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps; Petrouchka
RIAS Symphony, Berlin; Ferenc Fricsay, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 477 5485
Format: CD
Originally released: 1954
Reissue released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

The legendary Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay was like a meteor hitting the earth’s atmosphere. His career burned bright and then was abruptly snuffed out by illness. He died at 50, and the recordings of his latter years reflect his declining health. His brilliance bloomed unabated in the late '40s through the middle '50s, the period from which these performances are drawn. His readings of these popular Stravinsky ballets are precise, energetic, and exciting, yet he pays more attention to lyrical elements than other maestros do. There are performances that equal these, but none that surpasses them.

The recordings have been released in a new series devoted to DG recordings from the 1950s. In the past, DG’s vinyl-era recordings suffered greatly when transferred to CD. Witness the Galleria series, a good idea on paper that often bore rotten fruit. This disc shows one what all the early excitement regarding the DG label was all about. The sound is tight and well focused, with good frequency response and more-than-adequate dynamic range. This release also proves that a well-made monaural recording can have tremendous clarity and transparency. Just listen to the climax of "action rituelle des ancesteres" from the second part of Le Sacre. While drums and lower instruments go full tilt in a rhythmic ostinato, the violins create a swirling figure. The tambourine caps all this activity, and in this recording, it is all as clear as can be.

Another recording in the series well worth hearing is one by Igor Markevitch and the Berlin Philharmonic, dramatically playing Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The card-stock packaging for this series displays the original covers but is otherwise skimpy, with no notes on the music, just brief biographies of the performers.