Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps.
Willem van Otterloo, Sydney Symphony Orchestra (1978)

UPDATED 28/4/12. See below.

Indulge me if you will for a moment.

I went on my usual Friday afternoon perambulation a couple of weeks back, and thought I'd take a look in Ashwoods. I'd been rummaging through their classical albums a lot recently since reading Alex Ross's  The Rest Is Noise, which I can't recommend highly enough, although it's probably the most expensive book I've ever bought because since reading it I've been buying up loads of albums by composers of whom I had hitherto been ignorant. It would have been far more expensive had it not been for good old Ashwoods, Sydney's oldest (so far as I know) second-hand record shop, which has been in business since the 1930s. Their stock had become a little depleted since their glory days back in Pitt St in the 80s (when you couldn't move in there at lunchtime for men - and it was almost always men - looking through their LPs, books, comics etc etc) but their classical section was always worth a dive through, and you could regularly pick up an elusive recording of such-and-such by whoever for $3, or a box set of this opera, or that symphony cycle for under $20 (so long as the staff didn't mind your mixing and matching boxes, records and libretti).
The previous couple of times I'd been there, they'd had a half-price sale, during which I picked up several items from a large collection of minimalist CDs, and I'd most recently searched through about half of their classical bins looking for Bernstein's 1958 Le Sacre du Printemps.* 
I was about to pop back in to search through the other half when I saw this:
No, not the Adult Shop sign: that's downstairs, and still operating by the looks of it. I mean the 'For Lease' sign in Ashwoods' window. Talk about the end of an era. The last time I'd spoken to the more approachable of the two Ians that worked there, he didn't mention anything about their impending demise. He he did say that they were going to try and get their website running properly for online shopping, but I haven't seen any signs of life there since they closed. They did have an eBay store, but that seems to have fallen into neglect too (Ian said that they'd had their disagreements over eBay's fees).

I must have bought hundreds of records there over the years: some good, some bad, some real bargains. And I probably have dozens more bought elsewhere bearing that telltale Ashwoods stamp on the inside of the sleeve. I do hope they turn up again in some form or another. Sydney may never see their like again. I can't help but wonder (selfishly) what has become of their stock.

Anyway, by way of a half-arsed tribute, here's the last thing I ever bought at Ashwoods. There's actually a real tragedy attached to this recording, of which I was unaware. The SSO's Dutch chief conductor, Willem van Otterloo, died in a car accident in Melbourne a few days after this recording from the Sydney Opera House. The recording date is not on the liner notes, but it does say that he performed a season-ending concert featuring Le Sacre on the 25th of July, before travelling to Melbourne where he died on the 27th. I won't go into any more detail here, since (pardon my iggorance) I'd never heard of the guy before picking up this LP. There's some stuff about him on the good old internets.

This is a perfectly serviceable performance, and one that deserves to be preserved. I'm no musician, but I think I can detect the occasional flubbed note here and there, and the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House is not necessarily the best hall acoustically to be making recordings.
Those reservations aside, it's still an enjoyable recording. I've been on a real Stravinsky kick recently, and generally pick up any new recording of Le Sacre that I come across. There's another copy of this one in Ashwoods' classical stock, wherever that might be now.

EDIT 21/11/10: I've been playing this a few more times, and I've really grown to like it. I might have been a bit quick to judge earlier. Well worth the download.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Willem van Otterloo, conductor.
ABC** Records, Australian Orchestras, 1978. Cat # AO7041

A1: The Adoration of the Earth (15:22)
B1: The Sacrifice (17:49)

EDIT 28/4/12: Since I've received some requests for a re-up of this LP, I thought I'd re-rip it. I've got better gear and I'm better at the process now. I've posted this one in 24/96 FLAC too, so if people are interested in that I might post more hi-res rips in future.

24-bit/96kHz FLAC
16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC
320kbps mp3

* I didn't find it, but I have since found it (on a mono LP and in stereo on CD) on eBay. Awesome recording!
** as in Australian Broadcasting Commission, as she was then known.