I once thought (wrongly, as it turned out) that basically all versions of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring sounded pretty much the same. Stravinsky had finally done something that all other composers could only dream of: he'd created a piece of music that was conductor-proof. Of course, this didn't begin to explain why that final chord sounds differently in every version of the piece I know, or indeed why I had somehow accumulated twenty recordings of it over many years of collecting.
I welcomed the task of reviewing Ivan Fischer's new Rite of Spring because it presented the opportunity to further explore this issue: to what degree were versions of the music similar or different; and if these were different, well then, how and in what particular ways different? So I (perhaps foolishly) vowed to listen to every recording (CD or vinyl) I could get my hands on, including all twenty that I already owned. Ah, what we reviewers won't do for you listeners!
The results were surprising. In fact recordings of the music fall into three distinct categories. First, there are conductors who present the score as written, trusting to the notes on the page, and scrupulously avoiding any exaggeration or false dramatic emphasis. For these conductors, the music speaks for itself; its power doesn't rest in any single episode, but builds gradually, cumulatively, to its overwhelming climax. Recordings like this tend to be rhythmically concise and steady, flowing evenly throughout the piece.