An annoying Rite.
The CD cover tells all. The smirk on Krzysztof Urbanksi's face seems to say: "Wait till you hear what I do to this score". And from the very first note, I'm annoyed. And it sets the stage for everything which is to come.
Let's take a quick peek at the score - there's plenty of time to do so while that very first bassoon high C is playing. It is a quarter note with a fermata. But Urbanski has his bassoonist sustain it a full ten seconds! It's as if nothing is ever going to happen. And it is played the same way when it recurs 3 minutes later (on a Cb this time). And this is just the first extreme in a reading of extremes - extremely slow tempos (will the Spring Rounds or Mystic Circle of Young Girls ever end?); extremely soft passages followed by extremely loud, obnoxious ffff outbursts, which are just short of vulgarity.
Yup, Urbanski is determined to startle us with his "insight" and that's exactly what he sets out to do. Details are thrust aside in the point-making, and any sense of danceability - the spirit of the ballet - is eschewed. It is a heavy, weighty pronouncement of Mr. Urbanski's "take" on the score. (Glance again at that smirk on the cover.)
To be fair, there are sections in which this heaviness works. For example, the Glorification of the Chosen One in Part Two is rather impressive, with a real sense of menace and terror. But then, the Ritual of the Ancestors which follows practically comes to a dead stop. It's so slow even the English Horn player has trouble sustaining its long D# in one place, presumably running out of air.
And just when one thinks the end is near, and maybe, just maybe, it wasn't really all that bad, the final Sacrificial Dance leaves no doubt: yep, it really is that bad. Urbanski simply buries what's left of it. It is so slow, ponderous and thick that forward momentum comes to a halt and it drags on for an endless 5'17". There is absolutely no sense of any kind that this is a ballet. This virgin isn't dancing herself to death; the poor thing is left to die stuck in drying cement.
Alpha-Classics must have been happy with it; perhaps this reading's outlandishness would garner them notice for having participated in it. And as such, the recorded sound is serviceable, dutifully providing a murky, dark, weighty lower half of the orchestra.
There is an accompanying Blu-ray video of a Live performance recorded 3 months after the studio CD was made. It is a very high quality production, with a beautiful picture and better sound than the CD. The performance is a bit more involving too. But I found it almost more painful watching Urbanski conduct than just listening to the CD, with the constant, ridiculous snarl on his face and clawed left hand, as if he's about to maul the players closest to him. Oh give me a break - it's simply too much to endure. How the orchestra players sat there with a straight face is astonishing.
So while the Blu-ray disc should have been a real bonus, as it turns out, it is scant compensation for a CD lasting just 36 minutes. And be reminded that 36 minutes is a VERY long Rite of Spring.
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