Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps is a legend of musical Modernism – a masterpiece of the century that set new directions in music history with its irrepressible rhythmic energy. The premiere in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinski, was probably the greatest succès de scandale in music history: according to police reports, the spectacle, which ended in chaos, caused no fewer than 27 injuries.
The exotic bassoon solo in its highest register at the beginning of the work is enough to make the listener sit up and take notice. The rhythms that Stravinsky then uses in overlapping pattern structures to embody the pagan rite of spring in the ballet narrative are harsh and often violent. “The Sacre”, says Pierre Boulez, “serves as a pivotal point in any attempt to fix the beginnings of New Music”. Ballet music had never been so wild, so excessive or so overtly erotic.
When Zubin Mehta, regular guest and later honorary member of the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted the Sacre in April 1993, it became clear once again what makes his concerts so special: through accuracy in the rhythm and an emotional shaping of the music, his performances are immensely vivid. It is these qualities of Mehta’s conducting that make him one of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s closest partners.
A special liveliness also characterises Mehta’s reading of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Gran Partita”, scored for two oboes, clarinets, bassoons and basset horns, four horns and double bass. It is hard to imagine that music as delicate as that of the Adagio, in which individual wind instruments perform cantilenas over gentle pulsations, would have been heard in Mozart’s day as an accompaniment to open-air events. In the shielded acoustics of the Philharmonie Berlin, Mehta and the Philharmoniker succeed in bringing out the finest nuances of this sophisticated work.