- Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), ballet in 2 parts for orchestra
- Piano Sonata No. 5 in F sharp major ("The Poem of Ecstasy"), Op. 53
One of the hallmarks of Valery Gergiev's conducting is his nervous energy, and this quality pays off handsomely in The Rite of Spring. Once a fearsome test of an orchestra's virtuosity and musicianship, Stravinsky's ballet score is now standard fare. This is both good and bad, as some ensembles now make the music sound too easy. The Kirov Orchestra certainly has no problems bounding over the score's technical hurdles, but it is Gergiev's kinetic power that sets this performance apart. It is not a matter of speed, however, merely that he keeps the rhythms absolutely taut. In "Rondes printainères" (Spring Rounds), for example, the syncopations seem edgy, providing a sense of uneasy expectation. And Gergiev keeps the energy flowing, creating a huge arc that leads to the cathartic eruption at the end of Part One. If you want to get a sense of how weird the Rite of Spring sounded to its first audiences, this recording probably comes closer than any since Riccardo Muti's hard-driven version from 1978 with the Philadelphia. Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy is a terrific companion, providing an ecstatically amorous antidote to the savagery of the Stravinsky. Again, Gergiev's restlessness gives us a new perspective. Boulez, in his recent DG recording, focused on the music's perfume -- its sensuous harmonies and opulent orchestration. Gergiev is more lustful, if less luminous, and one is quickly swept up in this Poem's frankly erotic passion. Philips's brightly lit recording leaves nothing to the imagination. Not for prudes or the faint of heart.