Eelco Grimm’s Channel Classics Favorites 2 – Ivan Fischer & Budapest Festival Orchestra, Stravinsky – Rite of Spring, Firebird Suite, Scherzo, Tango

Classical music has always been part of my life. My mother played piano and my father had various sizes of recorders. In my teenage years I also played piano and studied faithfully, although in hindsight my motivation would have been greater had I chosen an ensemble instrument. Although I mainly played classical pieces, the raw emotions of pop music sounded much more exciting to me, and on my little music system I listened almost exclusively to pop music (like probably all teenagers). I must have been 16 when I heard Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for the first time at full length. It’s a vivid memory that this experience totally changed my view on classical music. I realized that classical could have a similar rhythmic fundament and convey the same or even more raw emotions than pop music!

In my student years, it must have been 1986, I was lucky to find a second hand Thorens TD124 for almost free. I still have it, last year I had it refurbished by an expert and it plays exceptionally well. The first LP I bought at the time was a box with the Rite of Spring and the other two early ballets of Stravinsky (Firebird and Petruschka), played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Colin Davis. This recording by Philips of 1977 has a beautifully warm sound to it, heated by the orchestra that plays truly vibrant. I had good taste…

In 2012, almost 100 years after the famous premiere of the Rite of Spring, Ivan Fischer recorded the piece with his Budapest Festival Orchestra for Channel Classics. Since this composition is a pivot in my personal development it just had to be part of my ‘Favorites’ series. Of course there’s an incredible amount of recordings of this piece to be found, but Fischer’s version is truly special. The menacing prelude to the abduction is played with such understated lyrism, that it draws you into the piece from the beginning. Guy Livingston, a pianist friend of mine, who visited me by coincidence right after I started playing this album was mesmerized on the spot. We were not able to stop the playback and just had to listen to the full piece together. 

Doubtlessly this was also caused by the fascinating sound quality of the Channel Classics recording. The Grimm AD1 may have contributed to it (it was used on all albums in this ‘favorites’ series). But it’s much more. The Rite of Spring is packed with small details and the orchestra treats them with full focus. Every instrument has its well defined spot in the generous space of the Palace of Arts in Budapest, but together they sound as a whole. In stead of presenting a mosaic of separate elements, the stereo image is natural in width and depth, inviting you to wander around and explore all the details. Listening to it is an adventure, driven by Stravinsky’s visionary power.

In the liner notes, Fischer says that with this piece “Stravinsky changed the world. Many plants grew from this seed: beat, rock, rap, minimal music.” So the circle is round: I can confess that there’s also a way back from beat and rock to classical music via the Rite of Spring. 

Eelco Grimm

You can purchase Rite of Spring with a 15% discount at NativeDSD. Use voucher code GRIMM for this.

The Thorens TD124 I bought as a student that received an upgrade recently.
In this video by Channel Classics, Ivan Fischer talks about his fascination for the Rite of Spring.