Beginning with Petroushka, which is new to CD on this release, I am immediately reminded of the ragged shape the "New Philharmonia" (as they were then called) was in the early 70s before Muti arrived to resurrect them from the brink. One wonders how this was allowed to happen and who was responsible for their demise. (And why did they retain that first flutist for as long as they did, with the sour, vibrato-less tone? It is especially disagreeable in the 3rd Tableau.)
Unfortunately, the recording itself is not ideal. This was originally a Phase 4 production. On the one hand, the Eloquence remastering technician has remarkably eliminated all evidence of the atrocious highlighting typical of Phase 4. But what remains is a rather hard, flat soundstage, which begs for some spaciousness and air.
But it's just as well, as Leinsdorf's reading is completely routine and uninspired. Not a single passage enlightens or sparks one's interest. One is constantly aware of the rough, lackluster orchestral playing and the recording quality which leaves something to be desired.
This Rite of Spring has been issued before - in Decca's 2012, 20-disc, "100th Anniversary Collectors Edition". That remastering came directly from the Phase 4 edit. This Eloquence has been newly remastered (according to the named remastering tech in the booklet), but it is only a subtle improvement. It's interesting that the remastering efforts for Petroushka largely eliminated most of the knob-twiddling and outrageous spotlighting of the original Phase 4 process, but here, it's very much like the 2012 issue. It still often sounds like obvious, intentional spotlighting. Alarmingly, there is the occasional passage where a solo instrument is startlingly thrust into the forefront, affecting the horns and various woodwinds most often. For example, there is a passage in Part 1 where the alto flute sounds huge, like it's as big as a sousaphone! Later, the principal horn blasts out in front of the orchestra as if the player is standing on the podium. And in the Dance of the Earth, the initial tam-tam crescendo is absurdly crude. Fortunatley, the overall playing is much more accomplished - by the London Philharmonic - and this is a better performance than Petroushka. However, the unnatural recording balances significantly detract from overall enjoyment, especially when Leinsdorf rarely achieves the necessary level of excitement to go with it.
Recording issues aside, I wondered if I'm being a little too critical of Leinsdorf. So I dusted off my go-to recording of these ballets, the early 80s Decca recordings with Antal Dorati conducting the Detroit Symphony. Oh my goodness - no, I'm not being at all too hard on Leinsdorf. Hearing again the superlative recordings made in Detroit, immediately these scores positively leap from the speakers under Dorati's direction, with orchestral weight and an accomplished level of execution in the orchestral playing that the London orchestras could not begin to approach (in the 70s). In Detroit, we hear a precision of articulation, a sense of power and strength (especially in the lower strings), and an adherence to the letter of the score which Leinsdorf hadn't even imagined. And the recording quality is absolutely beyond reproach. These, along with the companion Firebird and Appolon Musagete (on Decca's splendid "Ballet Edition" 2-fer) are without doubt the very best recordings ever made of these Stravinsky ballets. And I'll add that the Detroit Symphony has never played better than for Dorati.
All in all, this Eloquence offers an interesting tribute to Erich Leinsdorf, and it is good to have these recordings available again, and with sound somewhat improved over their original Phase 4 gimmickry. But it is perhaps surprising to hear how uninvolved and uninspired Leinsdorf was in Stravinsky, especially as his Prokofiev was so sensational. I certainly won't be returning to this disc when wanting to hear these great ballets in the future.
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