This is the ArkivCD reissue of the
original DG recording first available in 1995. The review copy
did not come with the original booklet although these will gradually
be made available starting with new issues. Further details will
become available on the Arkiv website. I feel it is unnecessary
for the website to include details like “20th century”
or where pieces are written. Each Schubert song, we are told was
written in Austria! This is mindless database padding, not real
knowledge and it’s not useful. It would serve better if
they gave the basic whys and hows. I hope Arkiv
will revamp its site.
Flood was originally
written for television, and indeed, filmed versions of it do exist.
It’s loosely based on medieval mystery plays, which gives the
vocal parts faux naïf didacticism. Britten developed a similar
idea in his Noyes Fludde, some seven years before. This
simplicity works well with the formal twelve-tone row structure
of the orchestration. Some very interesting musical ideas are
going on in the background. While most people will just love the
high-blown Shakespearean delivery of the vocal parts in this performance,
I think it mars the piece - it detracts from the music. Mystery
plays worked because the players sincerely believed in their meaning.
Here, the black and white formalism goes against emotional content.
Stravinsky said he called the piece The Flood instead of,
say, Noah, because he was writing of “The Eternal Catastrophe
…. the Flood is also The Bomb”. He downplayed the human drama,
calling Noah “a sideshow curiosity”. Perhaps this is why The
Flood hasn’t attracted as much attention as other Stravinsky
works. Rite of Spring this isn’t, despite the claims to
ancient portent. There are only three recordings that I know of,
one of which is conducted by Robert Craft who was instrumental
in choosing the texts.
Abraham and Isaac, Stravinsky is again exploring tone
rows, the music ascending and descending in interesting cadences.
Here the vocal line carries the structure rather well, single
instruments in the orchestration acting to expand details in
the singing. It also vaguely recalls Hebrew chant, which is
itself cadential, but carries emotional charge. In his final
work for orchestra, Variations, from 1963-4, Stravinsky
dispenses altogether with the need for voice. Perhaps as a result,
his writing seems freer and fresher as he plays with purely
best parts of this recording are the Requiem Canticles,
completed in 1966. Here, Stravinsky has developed serialism
in a distinctively personal way. In the Prelude, the strings
capture an exciting tension which evaporates into exquisitely
lustrous choral singing. The words “Exaudi, Exaudi” alert you
to the detailed structure of the movement. The Dies Irae
is similarly alert and sharply focused, the choral singing
strikingly precise. A particularly bright trumpet fanfare introduces
the baritone. David Wilson- Johnson sings of the “trumpets’
astonishing sound, which sparkles …” and here it most certainly
does. After an introspective Interlude, the choir returns,
before Susan Bickley enters, plaintively shaping the long, keening
lines in the Lachrymosa. But the high point of the piece
is the Libera Me with its combination of spoken word
and song, performed in interesting cross-currents. Like the
tolling of bells with which the piece concludes, the words “Libera
Me” peal over and over in different formations. Knussen and
the Sinfonietta are new music specialists. Twelve-tone rows
hold no mystery for them. Indeed, it is the clarity and precision
of this performance that lets the beauty of Stravinsky’s writing
shine through. It’s also very emotionally focused, as befits
a requiem written by a master who understood that a Requiem
has meaning, and isn’t just form.
altogether fitting that this piece is followed by Charles Wuorinen’s
Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky, for Wuorinen continues
the mood of late Stravinsky and develops the ideas further.
Wuorinen built his piece from a fragment from Stravinsky’s notes,
developing variations on it, much in the liberal way Stravinsky
had written the Variations heard earlier on this disc;
thus, “reliquary”, a relic embellished with reverence. This
is the classic account of the work, a milestone in Knussen and
the Sinfonietta’s repertoire. Indeed, it was chosen as one of
the first releases on the Sinfonietta’s own label. It has been
reviewed earlier on Musicweb, by Glyn
Pursglove and by myself.
performance is exactly the same. The main difference between the
discs is the pairings, which in both cases are well chosen.