The reason for this CD is presumably the inclusion of Chant Funèbre (Funeral Song), a ten-minute tribute by Stravinsky to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, written in 1909, lost for more than a century and discovered in a St Petersburg library in 2015. I accept its importance in the development of one of the 20th-century’s most important composers: it’s certainly not just a curiosity but there’s more than a touch of ‘much ado about nothing’ in its reception. It certainly prefigures the Rimskian influences of the Firebird ballet in its perfumed exoticism and subtle undercurrents, but it would have been better placed immediately before this CD’s main work, The Rite of Spring, rather than first, to give an idea about the development of Stravinsky’s various early styles.
The other early works are the Scherzo Fantastique, Fireworks and three Pushkin songs: The Faun and the Shepherdess (Stravinsky at his most whimsical, with soprano Sophie Koch in top form). Though The Firebird would have been a better choice as a culmination, The Rite receives a fabulous performance, refined yet somehow visceral, much the same as Igor Markevitch’s old Philharmonia recordings, both mono and stereo.
I’m beginning to wonder whether one of Claudio Abbado’s greatest legacies, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, is the 21st-century successor to Walter Legge’s legendary Philharmonia in its miraculous fusion of warmth and flexibility and brilliant precision and attack.