It’s said that audience members at the infamous 1913 Théatre des Champs-Elysées premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, having already caught wind of a new, wild work by Igor Stravinsky, began to riot at hearing the first notes. More than a century and upward of 100 recordings later, today’s listeners might approach the work believing they already know what to expect.
A new recording from Teodor Currentzis, the Perm Opera, and Russia-based orchestra MusicAeterna looks to dig deeper, peeling back decades of loaded cultural history to specifically channel the work’s pagan, Russian-folk origins. Based at the foot of the Ural Mountains, Currentzis and MusicAeterna seem perfectly poised to resurrect the work’s “pure Russian essence,” prodding for “a real musical scent of this deep end of the world,” as he describes in the liner notes.
That’s not to say this rendering of Le Sacre radically decamps from Stravinsky’s score. However, this recording grabs the bull by both horns, kneading muscular gusto into the enchanting and ancient spirit of the work. “Spring Rounds” in the Part I: Adoration of the Earth segment, is especially transporting and evocative of this folk soul. Like other sections of the album that may resonate as more primordial in tone, the tempo is slightly slow. The lower strings rumble with earthly weight. Higher strings milk every ounce of awakening emotion out of the music. That’s not to say a slower approach dominates; Currentzis’ tempo choices make for a vivid interpretation. The orchestra launches at many moments, such as in “Dance of the Earth,” wherein frantic strings and thundering percussion whips Part I to an end. One can see the Russian wilderness and all its earlier beings vibrate with wonder—and terror.
Particularly lush and theatrical is the interpretation of Part II: The Sacrifice. In “Mystical Circles of the Young Girls,” the lyrical strings capture an eerie fascination; the listener feels like a voyeur. As the sacrifice emerges and dances to her fated death, somehow, despite the feeling of alarm, a conjured yearning emanates for that raw chaos and magic of eras past.