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Penguin Guide

Penguin Guide

The Rite of spring (orchestral and pianola versions). (N) (M) o** Carlton Dig. 30366 00992 [id.]. Boston PO. Zander; Rex Lawson (pianola).

Zander's live recording with the Boston Philharmonic brings a hard-hitting colourful performance, directly related to the pianola version with which it is paired: Stravinsky himself in the 1920s supervised the original Pleyela piano-roll recording, which Rex Lawson 'plays' very effectively on a resonant Bosendorfer Imperial. With this pianola system (unlike the reproducing rolls which captured the actual playing of a concert pianist) the piano roll represented a form of transcription of the printed score, accurate in note lengths and time values. The pianolist playing the score back uses pedals to create dynamic levels and accents, and levers to phrase and sustain, and bring the music back to life. The speeds at which everything is presented remain predetermined and unalterable; and here the most striking point on speed is the very fast tempo for the opening of the final Sacrificial dance, markedly faster than Stravinsky's own last - and finest - of his three recordings. Zander suggests (and he offers additional documentary evidence from Marie Lambert, the Russian ballerina, quoting comments made by the composer at the orginal dance rehearsals of the ballet) that Stravinsky intended this faster tempo for the ballet's finale and that he modified the tempo only when he discovered that orchestras could not cope with the music at his intended speed (even his own 1960 recording contains inaccuracies). There is no doubt that played up to this faster tempo, the Danse sacrale is electrifying, capping a performance which now projects rhythms with biting confidence that defeated professionals three-quarters of a century earlier. The recording is full and vivid if not always as sharply defined as the playing.


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