This set deserves a favourable reception. It is just a pity that Stravinsky's
other symphony, the sublime Symphony of Psalms is not included here.
Apart from one performance, the other five works are well performed. The
exception is a tediously dull rendering of the Symphonies of wind
instruments. Rattle's performance is sometimes a misrepresentation of
the score. His tempi are questionable, he is not in control of the
pulse of the music with its many changes of time signature; there is no attack;
there is no stringency which is essential to this score; there is little
tension and the performance lacks vitality due to the conductor's lack of
understanding of this piece. I consulted with other professionals about this
performance to avoid any accusations of personal bias. They were in full
agreement with me and I regret I cannot put their learned and objective remarks
into print. This troubles me for if someone were introduced to this work
by this performance and were put off by it, injustice would be done.
The Symphony no l is a very attractive tonal work. It is beautiful,
fresh and exquisitely written. It teems with melodic ideas, choice harmonies
and a fecundity one associates with Mendlesshon. The piece is sheer joy and
Gibson, who does understand Stravinsky, and the recording bring out the works
many delights. This is a priceless jewel in the line of the splendid Glazunov's
symphonies which are overdue for revival.
The Symphony in C is Stravinsky at his best and most decisive. It
was written about the time of three personal bereavements ... his sister,
Ludmilla, his wife Catherine and his mother all died within eight months
during 1938-9. The symphony is a model for budding composers as to its excellent
continuity, consistency and unifying thematic material. As with all mature
Stravinsky the excellent rhythmic interest is always a welcome feature. His
music is never intended to be dull, unless you hear Rattle's performance,
but gloriously alive.
The Symphony in three movements is also wonderfully vibrant. It is
serious with a concertante part for the piano. It was written during
the Second World War but, as Francis Routh points out in his excellent booklet,
it is not specifically a war symphony. The third movement does, however,
give a commentary on the war with hints of goose-stepping German soldiers
and a vulgar tuba part. Best of all is Stravinsky's wonderful send-up of
the fugue, a mainly German musical form, or device, which is so coldly
clinical, restrictive and academic that Stravinsky pokes fun at it ... simply
I would have preferred a move aggressive approach to this work than that
which the late Sandy Gibson gives it but it is a good workman-like performance
of another 20th century masterpiece.
Serge Koussevitzky commissioned the Ode in 1943 following the death
of his wife Natalie two years earlier. It is a solemn elegiac piece in three
sections of which the second, eclogue, has a surprising liveliness.
But it is the expressive music that is the heart of this piece and, thankfully,
there is no sickly wallowing.
The Fairy's Kiss is a homage to Tchaikovsky and Noel Goodwin's notes
should be read to clarify which of Tchaikovsky's themes are used. There is
some lovely music which Järvi lingers over a little too much for my
taste but then this is not the great or original Stravinsky, the giant among
20th century composers. I have no doubt that he is one of the greatest composers
of all time.
Go and buy the discs. The Three Symphonies are deserving of our admiration.
The are fine works. The performances are reissues of recordings made between
1978 - 1985.
(except for the Rattle)