LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Agon; Apollo; Symphony in Three Movements; Firebird – Finale
PERFORMER: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4253-2 ADD mono
The programme Stravinsky selected for his Royal Festival Hall concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in December 1958 was unusually challenging both for the players and the audience. It offered in essence a retrospective of his life’s work, opening with his most recent score Agon, which must have surprised many people with its idiosyncratic use of serial techniques, and then worked backwards in time to conclude with the much safer Firebird Suite.
Having only four rehearsals at his disposal, Stravinsky achieved remarkable results with an orchestra that at that particular stage was far less familiar with contemporary repertory than later in the Glock era.
Although the performance of Agon is hardly pristine, there’s a greater sense of rhythmic tension in the performance than the more technically secure studio recording made by the composer, and the somewhat bronchially challenged audience greet the work with genuine enthusiasm.
The Symphony in Three Movements, although undeniably exciting, is somewhat less disciplined, the pulsating pizzicato strings and piano off-beats in the opening movement unfortunately coming adrift.
Likewise, Apollo has some shaky moments, though some of the solo string playing is beautifully moulded and the recording has plenty of atmosphere.
Finally the orchestra seems to relax for the familiar Firebird, the concluding section of which is featured here as a generous encore to this fascinating historical document. Erik Levi