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Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor)
Recorded at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto (December 2008 [Stravinsky] and May 2012) – 69’10
tsoLive TSO-0613 – Notes in English

This disk is frustrating in that it contains a top-notch performance of one piece, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and a decent, middle of the road performance of The Rite of Spring, a work that simply doesn’t flourish without a degree of frenzy, if not outright insanity, in its performance.

This is the centennial year of The Rite which is no doubt why the Toronto Symphony’s own label has chosen this opportunity to release this recording made back in 2008. This anniversary year has also seen what can only be called an avalanche of reissues of the piece. Universal Music has released a box set containing 38 performances of The Rite (35 orchestral and three on piano) from the Decca, Philips and DG vaults, and Sony has released a collection of ten performances. I’ll wager this TSO performance is better than many of the 38 re-released renditions but I am unwilling to tackle a full-scale comparison of them all. It must be pointed out, though, how one key section of the work, the “Dance of the Earth” which ends Part I, simply fails to rise to the epochal moment called for, unlike (to cite just one example) in Valery Gergiev’s performance on BluRay accompanying the Mariinsky Ballet Company (reviewed on this website.

The Rachmaninoff work, however, comes across extremely well. Symphonic Dances, the composer’s final major work, has a rich performance history with the TSO and the orchestra play as if they own it as well as mean it. There is both urgency and clarity in a performance that manages to be both turbulent and haunting - all in all, this is very compelling performance.

Michael Johnson




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