Igor Stravinsky: Threni – Requiem Canticles

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Phi
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: Threni; Requiem Canticles; The Dove Descending Breaks the Air; Gesualdo/Stravinsky: Da pacem Domine
PERFORMER: Christina Landshamer (soprano), Ewa Wolak (mezzo), Maximilian Schmitt, Magnus Staveland (tenor), Florian Boesch, David Soar (bass); Collegium Vocale Gent; Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: Phi LPH 020    

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Completed in 1958, when Stravinsky was 75, Threni was his first entirely 12-tone score and the longest work of his final creative decade. An often gratingly penitential setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for six soloists, chorus and orchestra, but shot through with moments of transfixing euphony, its mosaic-like structure of brief contrasting sections is difficult to perform and to record. Philippe Herreweghe evidently believes in the work and directs an intent reading, and his choir is exemplary, but the interacting vibratos of his soloists make the thornier canonic passages hard to hear harmonically and the recording sometimes loses orchestral detail. Stravinsky’s own 1960 recording was better balanced.

The lapidary sequence of striking sonorous images comprising Stravinsky’s ultimate masterpiece Requiem Canticles receive a fine performance and a cleaner recording – but then the score’s austere litanies and chimings are far simpler in texture. The Collegium Vocale Gent also deliver a sensitive, well-tuned account of the short a cappella anthem The Dove Descending Breaks the Air – though their enunciation of the English text, from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets could be clearer – and of Gesualdo’s six-voice motet Da pacem Domine for which Stravinsky reconstructed in his own way one of the voice parts that is missing.

Given the CD’s short measure, it is a pity one or two other items were not recorded, notably the four-minute Introitus: TS Eliot In Memoriam, composed just before Requiem Canticles – but maybe Herreweghe is planning a follow-up disc.

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Bayan Northcott