Peter Gutmann of Classical Notes has this take on the importance of the recording:
"Nowadays The Rite presents a vexing performance problem – how to restore the original impact. The score was intended to assault audiences with startling freshness, yet listeners now take its innovations for granted and thanks to Fantasia remember the work more as a cartoon soundtrack for dancing dinosaurs than as the bold cornerstone of twentieth century music. In a stunning January 1958 record, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra restored The Rite to its rightful place in musical history.
Bernstein's solution to the problem of historical perspective was brilliant and yet, as so often with artistic triumphs, disarmingly simple. He was well aware that what shocked audiences in 1913 would seem pretty mild stuff two generations later. He couldn't expect audiences to turn back the clock, forget what they knew and participate in an aesthetic masquerade. Nor would he falsify the score by adding more “modern” elements. There was only one way to jolt contemporary listeners while preserving the integrity of Stravinsky's original conception: to generate a level of energy so intense as to restore the disparity between what the audience expected and what they had to feel. Bernstein's performance explodes with huge crackling sparks of rough, untamed excitement." (Click here for the full original article).
Sounds intriguing indeed. The original cover looked like this:
The recording has since been re-released on CD in a Roayl Edition by Sony Classical (SMK 47629, with a recording of "Petrushka" as a bonus, recommended by Gutmann.
Apparently, this edition has been discontinued and is currently out of print. (There are other recordings of Bernstein conducting "Rite...", but they don't seem to have garnered as much praise).
As an avid music fan and record collector, I'm used to records being out of print, even highly praised and "important" works (I'm currently pushing Arista to release Air's Air Lore on CD. Altough I do own that record, you may not, and you deserve one). It's none the less a crying shame.
It seems the only way to get this particular recording is to fork out a whooping 99,99$ for a used copy on Amazon (ain't gonna happen buddy), or go for the The Original Jacket Collection-box set, but that too seems to be out of print and very expensive.
Am I missing something here?
EDIT: found a version of the original LP on eBay a month or so after this was posted. Moral of the story is: seek and you shall find.