February 2007

Keeping Score: Revolutions in Music - Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
San Francisco Symphony 21936-0015
Format: DVD
Released: 2006

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Image Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

This disc is part of a series that is the brainchild of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, yet another effort to bring great music and the understanding of it to a larger audience. The programs are first broadcast on PBS stations, then they are released on DVD. In a 55-minute documentary, Thomas takes us to Russia and Paris, the latter the site of the premiere of The Rite of Spring nearly 100 years ago. He gives viewers real insight into the piece, especially regarding Stravinsky’s use of folk tunes in creating a dance piece set in pagan Russia. His discussion of the orchestration is very astute as well.

After the documentary, viewers can watch a complete performance of the work, as well as a performance of three excerpts from another famous Stravinsky ballet, The Firebird. Thomas and the orchestra are on the mark throughout. The Rite is especially dramatic, precise, and controlled. The lyrical sections of The Firebird music are sweet without being saccharine, and the grand finale has seldom sounded so right. The overall effect is thrilling.

The camera work is designed to fit perfectly with the music. The cutting is rapid but never gratuitous, as it focuses attention on the right musician at the right time. Shot in high definition, the images are solid and detailed. If you have a good upsampling DVD player, it is amazingly close to HD. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or 5.1 and is as good as it can be for a compressed format. In HD DVD with Dolby TrueHD sound, this program would be a knockout. As it is, it is well worth seeing. There are three other available DVDs in the series, and I presume more still will come.