Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

Classical Music: Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Symphony in C; Symphony in Three Movements; Divertimento; Greeting Prelude; Circus Polka.

The BBC Philharmonic. Sir Andrew Davis

Chandos CHSA 5315

Hybrid SACD

This album is a gem and will be relished by Stravinsky fans. Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic have teamed up to record a disc of familiar works with, the exception perhaps, of the short Greeting Prelude. Written in 1955 it was composed as ‘a kind of singing telegram’ to mark the eightieth birthday of the conductor Pierre Monteux. In the minute it takes to perform it has many of Stravinsky’s characteristics and certainly festive.

Paul Griffiths’ notes point out that when Stravinsky started thinking about the Symphony in C, early in 1934 he was suffering with illness and the loss of his elder daughter, wife and mother, all of whom had died within a few months of each other, although his sadness is not reflected in this work. Davis and the BBC Philharmonic bring out Stravinsky’s fabulous orchestral writing. The woodwind excels especially the oboe and there are moments of warmth.

The Divertimento is an orchestral piece extracted by Stravinsky from his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, a homage to Tchaikovsky, based on songs and piano pieces by him, stitched together and orchestrated with Stravinskian cool. This is a delightful suite and the contrasts in the second movement between sections is beautifully captured with excellent rhythmic articulation and gracefully executed. The fourth movement's melody with its light accompaniment, again shows off the woodwind finesse, especially flute. The solo cello adagio and pizzicato strings are delightful and before all too long this lovely pas de deux and attractive suite ends with a delightful galloping coda.

From the opening of The Circus Polka, a commission from Stravinsky’s long-time collaborator George Balanchine, who had been asked by the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus to create a dance for elephants, the orchestra have fun. Davis uses the composer’s own orchestral version; the original was scored for circus band and organ by David Raksin, and performed by fifty elephants and fifty female dancers! Towards the end we get an extract from Schubert’s Marche Militaire.

Davis concludes this all-Stravinsky programme with the Symphony in Three Movements inspired as Griffiths points out, by the movies. The first movement a documentary about scorched-earth tactics in China, the second The Song of Bernadette, and the third by newsreels of goose-stepping soldiers and ‘the rise of the allies.’ Again, the players get the most out of the score. The piano’s contribution is effectively deployed and there is rhythmic energy throughout.

Overall, the balance between each section is superbly judged and Davis manges to detail all the intricacies such as the staccato woodwind in the third movement that interact with piano and then strings before it reaches its spirited ending.

A fine representation of Stravinsky.