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Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

(Sony Masterworks)

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Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's modernist juggernaut The Rite of Spring has become so deeply embedded in mainstrea classical music (i.e. Fantasia) that it is easy to forget the intense animosity into which the piece was born. Haughty Parisians, incensed, incited and inspired by the polyrhythmic dissonance of Stravinsky's dream-derived vision of a pagan ritual in which a young girl dances herself to death, rioted at the 1913 premiere. Conductors have been trying to recapture the fury of the original ever since, to the point that many recordings sound downright spastic—as if the music is a fire the conductors are trying to extinguish. Leonard Bernstein's 1972 version with the London Symphony, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the specific goal of being played on high-end surround-sound stereos, emphasizes tone over terror at many points. However, the incredible roundness of the sound at sections like "Glorification of the Chosen Victim" and "Procession of the Wise Elder" only serves to make the hair on my neck stand out more fully. For a bizarre soundtrack to people-watching, The Rite has no peer, and this beautifully remastered performance is worth the purchase of a good pair of headphones just to worship at its feet.