Stravinsky: Monumentum, Mass, Symphony of Psalms & Choral Variations

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Gesualdo,Stravinsky
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Mass; JS Bach: Choral-Variationen (arr. Stravinsky); Gesualdo: Monumentum (arr. Stravinsky)
PERFORMER: Collegium Vocal Gent; Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 349

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Two of Stravinsky’s supreme sacred works make up this CD with two of his ‘recompositions’ of other composers – though at under 51 minutes, the disc could easily have included another piece or two.

Of the reworkings, Monumentum (1960) is the less successful: an arrangement of three of Gesualdo’s madrigals which, by distributing chunks of counterpoint round different groupings of an ensemble of winds and strings, somewhat neutralises the intensity of the originals.

The 1956 revamp for chorus and orchestra of Bach’s celebrated Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ is far more ingenious – though not all Stravinsky’s naughty additional canons are clearly audible in the live ambience of this recording.

Philippe Herreweghe has achieved wonderful things on disc, but a slight looseness of ensemble here and there raises doubts as to whether he is a born Stravinskian. In the sublimely hieratic Mass (1948) with its glowing wind band backing, his tempos are even brisker than Stravinsky’s own by no means sluggish 1960 recording, yet intensity and incisiveness come and go somewhat, so that the radiant culmination of the ‘Benedictus’, for instance, sounds almost perfunctory. 

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Yet almost all is redeemed in his account of the Symphony of Psalms, thanks largely to the vital, finely focused singing of the Collegium Vocale Gent. The opening movement has a fierce urgency and the fugal exposition of the second is beautifully articulated, even if the exultant finale rather overrides the complementary element of timeless ritual (and a disturbingly ‘off’ pitch in the oboe chord before the final ‘Alleluia’ ought to have been picked up). Bayan Northcott