WORKS: The Flood; Abraham and Isaac; Variations; Requiem Canticles; A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky
PERFORMER: Peter Hall (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone), Stephen Richardson (bass), Susan Bickley (contralto), Michael Berkeley, Bernard Jacobson, Lucy Shelton, Peter Hall (speaking parts); New London Chamber Choir, London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
CATALOGUE NO: 447 068-2 DDD
Knussen’s performances of three of the Stravinsky works (all except the Variations) at last year’s Aldeburgh Festival, with the Britten-Pears Orchestra, showed that they need not be the exclusive property of specialist bands. Specialism does no harm, all the same. There were a few accidents at Aldeburgh. Here there are none. Without exception, these are the best recorded performances of these four works – performances which at last detach those favourite labels for late Stravinsky (‘hermetic’, ‘arcane’ – see Peter Lieberson’s insert note) and allow music which in fact holds no particular terrors for the willing listener back into the public domain where it belongs. The playing is immaculate throughout, the conducting controlled, sensitive and intuitive, the recordings lucid and well-balanced. David Wilson-Johnson is beyond praise in Abe and Ike, as its admirers (including me) like to call it; he doesn’t merely impale his voice on it, he really sings it. Only the narrator in The Flood bothers me: Michael Berkeley is too ‘Proms presentation’.
Wuorinen’s Reliquary is an oddity, but a brilliant one. The Stravinsky connection (it’s based on unused late sketches) is a slight red herring: a few gestures recall the Master, but the musical thinking and scale are un-Stravinskian, and none the worse for that. It’s a gripping piece, and well worth the appearance of coat-tailing.