1941-45 Wartime Music - Vol. 15
Igor Fyodorovich STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Symphony in Three Movements (1945) [22:19]
Scherzo à la Russe (1944) [4:06]
Danses concertantes (1942) [20:35]
St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Titov
rec. 17-20 November 2010, St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg
NORTHERN FLOWERS NF/PMA 9995 [47:21]
The Northern Flowers label has been doing sterling work reviving relatively unknown and unsung composers such as Vladimir Scherbakov, Yuri Kochurov, Gavriil Popov and the like. This kind of thing creates its own well deserved interest, but delve into core repertoire of work by composers such as Stravinsky and you are immediately putting yourself up against crack teams such as Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, who by all accounts have a good deal of experience with this work, including with the likes of Boulez (see review). The St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra is OK in many parts of the Symphony in Three Movements, but not outstandingly wonderful in most. The first movement’s driving rhythms work well enough, but the central section around the 7:30 mark wanders rather aimlessly. The second movement is set at a nice Andante tempo, but exposes some rough edges with string intonation here and there – the violins from 3:20 for instance. The punishing syncopations of the closing Con moto sound tentative, and there are plenty of scrappy violins to distract from the real impact of the music.
All of this said I’m quite glad to hear this work with the sonorities of a real Russian orchestra. The winds are stylish, the brass gruff and strident, and there are plenty of strong individual performances. The recording is a bit on the narrow side as far as stereo imaging goes but is dynamic enough. This doesn’t really hack it on the international CD market, but if you are collecting the series it will fit in well enough. The orchestra sounds more comfortable in the initial march rhythms of the Scherzo à la Russe, though the more transparent the orchestration the more exposed are the weaknesses. Alexander Titov doesn’t really know what to do with the violin ostinati, and there is a certain amount of scrubbing and apparent confusion in other sections. The Danses concertantes is also decent enough and, all things considered, probably the best performance on this CD, but it does continue this frustrating mixture of solid performance from some sections, occasional soggy weakness from others – mostly the strings, but also in the rather indistinct conducting. I know I always refer back to the Sony big bargain box of the Stravinsky ‘Complete Edition’, but this is pretty hard to beat as a one-stop reference in these and most other works.
Another minus point for this CD is its brevity. If we’re looking at Stravinsky’s wartime works then there is plenty more on offer: Four Norwegian Moods (1942), Scènes de ballet (1944) or even the Circus Polka (1942) as a filler would have helped tip the programme to at least over the 50 minute margin. There are moments of great fun and fine musicianship on this CD, but these are unfortunately outweighed by too many meaty chunks of amateurish mediocrity. By all means keep your ‘Wartime Music’ set complete, but if you seek the best for this repertoire there are dozens of other far more effective places.
Too many meaty chunks of amateurish mediocrity.