Stravinsky

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: ICA Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Leonard Bernstein: Stravinsky
WORKS: The Rite of Spring; Capriccio; Symphony of Psalms
PERFORMER: Michel Béroff (piano); English Bach Festival Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
CATALOGUE NO: ICAD 5124

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This Royal Albert Hall concert marked the first anniversary of Stravinsky’s death, and came just days before the infamously fraught sessions where Leonard Bernstein took this London Symphony Rite of Spring into the Abbey Road studios for an experimental quadrophonic recording. The concert itself was broadcast on ITV’s Aquarius programme, and the sound is mono. It’s adequate, however, and Humphrey Burton’s intelligent if occasionally over-active camera angles throw much light on the piquant burblings of woodwind in the Rite’s opening section, and on Stravinsky’s generally astonishing command of instrumentation.

Burton is excellent too at deftly intercutting the orchestral footage with Bernstein’s riveting conducting, which conveys an amazing range of rhythmic and dynamic distinctions in its jerky, twitching, stabbing body-language. He has a score in front of him, but barely seems to use it.

The performance itself is by turns mesmerisingly textured and blisteringly powerful, and is played with coruscating brilliance by the orchestra. The Capriccio, a light sorbet between heavier courses, is crisply dispatched by a youthful Michel Béroff.

In the Symphony of Psalms Bernstein elicits a strongly devotional performance from the choir, with eloquently expressive contributions from the LSO wind soloists. At the conclusion we get a classic Bernstein moment when, having asked for no applause, the maestro skips off through the orchestra, blowing a luvvie-kiss towards the singers.

The colour picture quality is predictably a little fuzzy, but enables full appreciation of some extravagantly bouffant ’70s hair-styles among the performers.

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Terry Blain