Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps, Petrouchka - Litton

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps, Petrouchka - Litton


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, Petrouchka (1911 version)

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton (conductor)

During the 1910’s, at a time when late-romanticism had been taken about as far as possible, the collaboration between Igor Stravinsky and the ballet impressario Sergei Diaghilev had a huge influence on the development of music.

Performed by Diaghilev's company Les Ballets Russes, their first joint effort, The Firebird, was a great success in Paris in 1910, and within the space of just a couple of years two further landmarks of twentieth-century music followed: Pétrouchka and Le Sacre du printemps.

Stravinsky's clear-cut textures, strong primary colours and almost percussive treatment of the orchestra staked out a route later explored by many of his colleagues. Particularly striking in the case of Pétrouchka was the extensive use of scraps of folk song and street music, treated with extreme refinement and often biting irony – the character of Petrushka, a puppet come to life, was described by Stravinsky as ‘the immortal and unhappy hero of every fair-ground in all countries’.

On the present recording the original 1911 version is used, giving an even more immediate and exciting effect. As for The Rite of Spring, the scandal at its 1913 premiere has become legendary – a scandal probably caused as much by Nijinsky’s choreography as by Stravinsky’s score.

But even today, the music offers an extremely powerful experience, above all through its rhythmic qualities. Static rhythms, repeated for long stretches, generate enormous latent energy and are contrasted with irregular rhythms that change at bewildering speed. Both scores belong to the pinnacles of 20th-century orchestral music, and are here performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by its music director Andrew Litton.

Most recently this team have released a highly praised cycle of Mendelssohn’s symphonies, but their Russian credentials are also impeccable, with their recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suites being described as ‘glittering, colourful, spirited … and with a striking attention to detail’ on the website Klassik-Heute.

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32 of 37 recommend this, would you recommend it?  yes | no

PCM recording

Recording: August 2008 (Le Sacre du printemps) and June 2009 (Pétrouchka) at the Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
Producers: Marion Schwebel (Le Sacre du printemps); Robert Suff (Pétrouchka)
Sound engineers: Matthias Spitzbarth (Le Sacre du printemps); Hans Kipfer (Pétrouchka)
Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter (Le Sacre du printemps); Stagetec Truematch microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter (Pétrouchka); MADI optical cabling; Yamaha 02R96 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones
Editing: Michaela Wiesbeck
Mixing: Matthias Spitzbarth, Marion Schwebel (Le Sacre du printemps); Hans Kipfer, Robert Suff (Pétrouchka)
Executive producer: Robert Suff

Reviews (2)

Review by Mark Novak - March 24, 2011

These are excellent performances in fantastic sound with only one minor quibble on the sound quality (see below). The original 1911 version of Petrouchka is performed which contrasts with Stravinsky's later reworking for a smaller ensemble. Maestro Litton brings a keen sense of balance and proportion to the score which in other hands may seem a bit rough and ready. Here however, the music speaks eloquently and strongly. The playing of the Bergen orchestra is top notch with special kudos going to the principal flute and trumpet players. Petrouchka, which came shortly after Firebird and was also conceived as ballet music, is a heady blend of folk-like themes entangled with Stravinsky’s bizarre rhythmic sensibility. I’ve heard my share of Petrouchka’s over the years and I can’t say that this performance takes second place to any of them. A delightful and bracing 34 minutes of music.

Le Sacre du Printemps came two years after Petrouchka and the audience uproar at the premiere is now well known. The booklet notes (well written by Andrew Huff) make note of the fact that Stravinsky himself said that he had this music in his head but struggled to translate it to paper and staff. No wonder – it is full of complex rhythms, pounding percussion, repeated orchestral ostinatos and just plain weirdness. It’s a composition that I admire but do not love. Litton and orchestra really let loose here. The essential primal nature of the music is unleashed to full effect in this exciting performance. I have found Maestro Litton’s conducting to be somewhat reticent on recent mainstream romantic repertoire but I hear none of that here. This is as exciting as they come. The sectional playing is simply superb. It amazes me how such a complex score can be made to sound “easy” in the hands of these accomplished musicians. My hat is off to Maestro Litton and the Bergen players – bravo!

The SACD stereo sound is fantastic. Le Sacre was recorded August, 2008 by sound engineer Matthias Spitzbarth (a new name to me). The music features brass, wind and percussion instruments and all are captured in very realistic fidelity in a very wide dynamic range. The bass drum has an enormous presence – visceral and powerful but it is somewhat overbalanced in this recording, reminding me of a number of Telarc releases with over-prominent bass drum. Really, this is the only slight flaw in the recording of Le Sacre. All else is excellent including the double basses and contrabassoons which provide a rich foundation to the orchestral sound. Petrouchka was recorded in June, 2009 by Hans Kipfer who has engineered many BIS releases over the years. This recording is nigh on perfect – beautiful string sound from low to high accompanied by startlingly realistic brass, winds and percussion.

All in all, this one is very highly recommended!

Copyright © 2011 Mark Novak and


Sonics (Stereo):

stars stars

Review by Graham Williams - April 4, 2011

This coupling of two of Stravinsky's most popular ballets is certainly the finest to have appeared for many years, and demonstrates clearly what a superb orchestra the Bergen Philharmonic has become under Andrew Litton during his tenure as its musical director.

Litton, rightly in my view, has chosen to perform the original 1911 score of Petrushka rather than Stravinsky's 1947 revision for somewhat reduced forces. The scoring of this earlier version is more colourful, showing not only the considerable influence on the 28 year-old composer of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov but also the development of his unique orchestration. Litton treats the work as a ballet rather than an exercise in orchestral virtuosity, adopting tempi in each of the four tableau that are eminently danceable. In the 'Danse Russe' of the Premier Tableau, Jarle Rotevatn gives a sparkling account of the piano part, but to be fair each of the Bergen Philharmonic's soloists are worthy of praise. Though Pierre Monteux's 1959 recording of the ballet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Franck: Symphony, Stravinsky: Petrouchka - Monteux remains something rather special (after all it was he who conducted the first performance of Petruska) it cannot compete with this new version either textually or sonically.

'Le Sacre du Printemps' has until now lacked a really recommendable version on SACD, but now we have one that will be hard to beat! Litton's account is thrilling from start to finish with the orchestra sounding even more galvanised than in Petrushka. The conductor elicits playing of electrifying rhythmic incisiveness from his orchestra that drives the music forward throughout its 34 minute span. The impressionistic Introduction to Part II is especially evocative while the final 'Danse sacrale' is overwhelmingly powerful. The impact of the bass drum on this recording is considerable but on my system it sounds exactly as it does in the concert hall, with none of the exaggerated spread or overhang that is to be found on many Telarc recordings of this instrument.

Though the BIS sound quality is exceptional in both works, I found that it was necessary to increase the volume setting quite considerably to experience fully its realistic presence. The ambience of the Grieghallen, Bergen is perfectly captured in both works (recorded a year apart) by the engineers in this most natural sounding multi-channel recording. Informative notes by Andrew Huth complete this outstanding release.

Highly recommended with no reservations whatsoever.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars
Comments (1)

Comment by Waveform - August 30, 2017 (1 of 1)

This is excellent SACD, especially when listening to it in multichannel. The rear speakers are used for the ambience in an exemplary way recreating the acoustics bloom of the Grieg Hall, Bergen. And at the same time one just cannot stop to wonder how BIS has managed to reach such a wide dynamic range using just a little bit better sample rate (44,1 kHz/24 bit) than the standard CD quality.

Why they decided to proceed on this way remains a mystery. But thanks to the carefully prepared DSD conversion [for SACD] the all layers and aspects of the gripping performance have been taken into account creating almost unrivalled results for a listeners at home.

In [The Rite of Spring] the percussion instruments - notably bass drum and tam-tam - have a terrific impact shaking the walls of the listening room. As a reason of this a demonic character of the work comes into full bloom holding your attention on a very high level. Briefly speaking this is 'Rite' that has not dull moments at all.

Petrushka (in its original form) is a delightful filler which will provide speedy moving 30-minutes of colorful music. Litton has read the score very well and finds truly mind-blowing facets of it.

All in all an unmissable disc that should be found in every SACD library of a serious audiophile.