Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements; Four Études; Pulcinella

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: CSO Resound
WORKS: Symphony in Three Movements; Four Études; Pulcinella
PERFORMER: Roxana Constantinescu (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), Kyle Ketelsen (bass-baritone); Chicago SO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: CSOR 901 920 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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In some respects at least, Pierre Boulez seems to be finding common ground with his fellow-octogenarian, Sir Colin Davis, who has described his own musical standpoint these days as ‘looking for space’. Boulez’s approach to the Symphony in Three Movements struck me at first as being spacious indeed – until a check with the score showed that his choice of first-movement tempo is only a fraction slower than Stravinsky’s marked crotchet-equals-160, while that of the finale is spot-on.

Articulation is brilliantly crisp and clear. Meanwhile there’s all the more room for the score’s detail to come through, with orchestral players of stellar Chicago class to deliver it. The result isn’t so much a super-dramatic, brassy, American-style performance as, just as legitimately, one that connects with the French element of Stravinsky’s style (even in his late American-period works).

In Pulcinella, too, while the music’s roguish streak doesn’t always come across as it could, Boulez’s legendary forensic precision coexists with charm, poise and a sense of enjoyment that the orchestra palpably shares. However the three accomplished soloists offer all-purpose, plush-velvet class rather than real characterisation; and Kyle Ketelson takes the high tessitura of ‘Con questo paroline’ an octave lower, a cop-out that shouldn’t have been allowed to pass.

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In his engaging booklet interview Boulez rightly insists that the earlier Four Études, although only short pieces, contain some exceptional music. This performance brings out both their searching, exploratory quality, and the marvellous orchestral colours that Stravinsky found for material mostly first written string quartet. Malcolm Hayes