Stravinsky: Symphony in C; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony in C; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments
PERFORMER: Berlin RSO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 416-2 DDD
Dutoit, Gibson and Saraste currently offer Stravinsky’s two mature, purely orchestral symphonies together; and the composer’s own account of the Symphony in Three Movements — now obtainable with all three of his other works titled ‘symphony’ on two CDs from Sony — has been particularly praised. But Ashkenazy obtains delightfully vivacious, pungent, occasionally downright cheeky playing for the Symphony in C — which demands, and here receives, razor-sharp orchestral virtuosity and careful shaping as well as playfulness. Energy and precision seemed just a bit lower at the start of the Symphony in Three Movements. But I like the brittle, almost menacing pianist. And woodwind, harp, horn and solo strings in the slow movement are beautifully etched.

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Symphonies of Wind Instruments, the anti-symphony of this set, seems to me to lack substance here. Stravinsky’s ‘objective cry’ shouldn’t, of course, have a traditional symphonic weight, but I prefer Boulez’s stark, hieratic rigour in the original 1920 version to Ashkenazy’s light touch with the 1947 revision. A shame this 1978 CBS recording with the New York PO isn’t available, though a 1963 French National Orchestra performance under Boulez is among five which are. Good recordings. Keith Potter