Though Stravinsky remains the quintessential Russian composer, his most famous — and infamous — work, Petrouchka, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), premiered in Paris almost exactly a century ago (in case you have been wondering why all the Rite-themed hoo-hah lately) and is therefore a de-facto French piece. How important, then (not to mention sexy) to have Daniele Gatti’s rendering helming the Orchestre Nationale de France — a French reading of this “French” opus.
The Rite, while built with enormous punctilio by one of the fussiest composers in history, packs a decibel-level punch. And while you’d think that such a micromanaged orchestral work would be open to precious little in the way of interpretation, you would be wrong. It is easy — and no doubt tempting — to push the Rite to its storied pre-punk edges and burn it up for “wow” factor. But Daniele Gatti reminds us that holding the extremes in check can net a dazzling payoff — for an example listen to his final moment of “The Adoration of the Earth,” one of the most potently taut iterations on record, the big come-to-Jesus of the piece, though starting there will deny you the fun of getting there. Not to say that there isn’t merit to the opposite (read: Bernstein’s) approach, which is to just throw everything out there at every moment, but this Rite, while no salve or “easy listening” version, is a different route to the same dizzying effect.
As if this was not enough — and it ought to be — this reading of Petrouchka is as open-throttled and shot through with bonhomie as his Rite is coiled-to-pounce. These two ballets, though written in succession, are very different works, and Gatti has the good sense to play to their respective strengths. His depiction of Stravinsky’s youthful country fair is appropriately wondrous, magical and drunk as the music requires.