Stravinsky Choral and Orchestral Works
Bernstein's famous recording of the Symphony of Psalms makes a welcome return to the lists in this new transfer, rather cleaner in the bass than its predecessor (CBS, 12/88—nla). The extra detail at the start is not an unmixed blessing—the players take a little time to get into their stride—but, unless ascetic rigour is your priority in Stravinsky, this remains very much a valid option. In the allegro section of the last movement, Bernstein's rhythmic pointing is unrivalled, while the more moulded style he adopts elsewhere is supported by committed, properly tuned singing, something that cannot be taken for granted in this music. Compare the Swiss groups assembled for Jarvi, or even the usually excellent London Symphony Chorus for Tilson Thomas (Sony) and the superiority of the English Bach Festival Chorus is plain. That glorious closing section goes for nothing under Jarvi. Perhaps it is self-consciously expressive with Bernstein; it is also properly sublime.
The couplings are less strong. Instead of the contemporaneous LSO Rite or long-vanished Boston Oedipus, Sony Classical have dug up some interesting, if scarcely essential, neo-classical Stravinsky from the early days of stereo. Recorded in the 30th Street Studio, New York where Horowitz taped many a session for CBS, this Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments is acoustically challenged. Seymour Lipkin's tone is made to sound thinner than we expect today and the obstreperous outbursts of the New York brass seem very cramped and close, not without a touch of distortion. Nor has the last chord of the finale been relieved of its artificial echo. The performance itself is not quite the jazzy revelation one might have hoped for and the central Largo even seems rather ponderous. As for the Pulcinella suite, a little better as sound, Bernstein's full-blooded approach has dated badly. The music-making is aptly buoyant, yet texturally over-inflated, as if Sir Hamilton Harty had somehow got in on the act. Recommended for the main work.'