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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Igor Stravinsky - Symphonies; etc. (Alexander Gibson; Neeme Järvi)


Composer: Igor Stravinsky

  • (01-04) Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Op. 1
  • (05-08) Symphony in C
  • (09-11) Ode (Elegiacal Chant in three parts)
  • (01-03) Symphony in Three Movements
  • (04) Symphonies of Wind Instruments
  • (05-13) The Fairy's Kiss (Le baiser de la fée)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Nash Ensemble, conducted by Simon Rattle (CD2 4)
Alexander Gibson, conductor
Neeme Järvi, conductor (CD2 5-13)

Date: 1981, 1977, 1984
Compilation: 1999
Label: Chandos



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 wonderful!

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.

-- David WrightMusicWeb International

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / SOUND: ****


Igor Stravinsky (17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. His output is typically divided into three general style periods: a Russian period, a neoclassical period, and a serial period.


Alexander Gibson (11 February 1926 – 14 January 1995) was a Scottish conductor and opera intendant. He studied music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Royal College of Music in London, Mozarteum Salzburg (under Igor Markevitch) and Accademia Chigiana Siena (under Paul Van Kempen). In 1959 he became the first Scottish principal conductor and artistic director of the Scottish National Orchestra, a post he held until 1984. Under his leadership the orchestra built an international reputation through recordings and foreign tours.


Neeme Järvi (born June 7, 1937 in Tallinn) is an Estonian conductor. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory under Yevgeny Mravinsky and Nikolai Rabinovich, among others. He made over 400 recordings for labels such as BIS, Chandos and Deutsche Grammophon and best known for his interpretations of Romantic and 20th century classical music. In 1982, he became the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, and held the post for 22 years, the longest-serving principal conductor in the orchestra's history.


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